Sunday, May 19, 2013
Municipal Government More ‘Opaque’ Than ‘Transparent’
You can find facts about everything from weather conditions to sports scores over the internet, but when it comes to local government, it’s not always that easy.
It’s becoming easier than ever to access information with just the click of a button. You can find facts about everything from weather conditions to sports scores over the internet, but when it comes to local government, it’s not always that easy.
The Alaska Policy Forum is a local non-profit research group working to compile information on government spending and policy, including reports on things like labor contracts and payroll statistics.
While the information is occasionally available online, posted on municipal websites and other town council pages, forum members said that’s not always the case.
"The results were mixed,” said forum director Jeremy Thompson. “Some local governments were very transparent, some were not so transparent."
When the information wasn’t available online, the forum would contact local governments directly to request electronic copies of labor contracts, payroll statistics and other related data.
"It was like pulling teeth to try and get a response out of them,” Thompson said of several Alaska governments.
In one case, the forum was told it would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars” for an administration in southeast Alaska to make paper copies of labor contracts; no electronic version was made available.
But the lack of transparency isn’t just limited to contract issues. Representatives from the Port of Anchorage Tuesday refused to confirm any costs, discuss information or talk about any issues surrounding the multimillion-dollar port expansion project at the direction of Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan.
"It's appropriate,” Sullivan said Wednesday. “I'm the Mayor, I'm in charge of the port."
At the policy forum, Thompson said it boils down to one simple idea.
"If it illuminates how money is being spent, now there are some exceptions to that, but the public has a right to know,” Thompson said.