“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.” – Justice Louis Brandeis Over the last year, what had been an ambient longing for cultural and political change coalesced. The voters willingly took a leap of faith. But what happened on election day, with its dramatic mandate for change, wasn’t the fickle result of a tidal wave. […]
“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
– Justice Louis Brandeis
Over the last year, what had been an ambient longing for cultural and political change coalesced. The voters willingly took a leap of faith. But what happened on election day, with its dramatic mandate for change, wasn’t the fickle result of a tidal wave. It came from what had been a long steady rain.
With high-profile executives under fire in many quarters, 2008 has proven to be a bad year for bad leaders. In both the private and public sectors incompetent leadership has been denounced bitterly.
Just as the nation is now eagerly watching President-elect Barack Obama for signs of hope that change will mean brighter days ahead, Richmonders have their eyes on Mayor-elect Dwight Jones. Coincidentally, or not, Obama and Jones are both following executives whose once-shimmering luster of popularity has faded to black.
Now Dwight Jones has the power to make a savvy move that would put him in a good light, as he prepares to take office with the new year. He could act boldly to show everybody in town, including current and future employees of The City of Richmond, just how willing he’s going to be to break with the yesterday’s cloistered way of doing the people’s business.
Jones could say, “Let there be sunlight.”
Or, Jones could blow off the opportunity, to stick with the traditional way of running governments that has wanted as little kibitzing from John Q. Public as possible.
Whatever Jones does, “sunlight” is a political issue that is only going to get bigger.
Today’s technology makes it possible for City Hall to open itself up to scrutiny from any citizen with access to the Internet. If Richmond wants to do it in 2009, this city could allow the taxpayers to follow their money through the machinery of government to where it gets spent.
Of course most of us wouldn’t actually put in much time doing that, even if we could. While some of us couldn’t make much sense out of looking at such data, in the first place, some watchdog individuals/groups will understand it just fine. They will be more than willing to take the time to do it, too.
As fresh as that concept might seem to some readers, it’s been bubbling in the blogosphere for some time. One noteworthy and innovative step has already been taken toward more citizen oversight of routine government business. Last year Waldo Jaquith, one of Virginia’s best known political bloggers, launched a website to track bills through the General Assembly. It’s called Richmond Sunlight (click here to see it).
Yes, the same Internet that offers unlimited opportunities to waste time, could also be the key to making democracy function properly in the 21st century through swift and greater accountability. Besides, since the government already watches us all the time, why shouldn’t we be able to watch it?
Mixed in with all the gibberish spewed out by blogs, especially political blogs, there are cutting-edge ideas being discussed and pertinent new issues are solidifying. Attacking and defending ideas is a healthy exercise, whether it is done stylishly or not. Only Luddites, who are deliberately ignoring the blogging phenomenon, are still saying political blogs don’t matter.
In Richmond no one has written more eloquently about the beauty of sunlight/transparency into matters involving the use of public funds than freelance writer Don Harrison, who publishes Save Richmond (click here to see it), which won the Laurence E. Richardson Freedom of Information Award (it was Harrison and two partners then) in 2005 for its investigative journalism.
Harrison knows how to wield Freedom of Information Act requests and he’s earned a following in the local blogosphere with his revealing posts about the Virginia Performing Arts Foundation/CenterStage, in particular, and about local politics, in general. He has argued convincingly that if public money is being used, the public has the right to see the books.
Yet, the VAPAF — even after having been caught fudging money matters — still seems to be resisting the call to stop concealing what money it has, or how it is being/will be spent. Harrison says the game has now been rigged to shield VAPAF from future FIOA requests.
It would be a sure sign of brighter days ahead if Mayor Jones moves to undo that particular mistake on his first day in office. (more…)