Reporter Sherry Mitchell writes in The Hendersonville Standard this week that city officials are blaming a delay in its annual audit because staff has been backed up fulfilling public records requests, largely from citizens involved with EverythingHendersonville.com.
This is the same situation that resulted in an October 2013 opinion from the Office of Open Records Counsel saying that the city had improperly adopted a fee schedule for public records, and to charge fees, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen needed to pass an ordinance. (The mayor had done this on his own, without going before the the governing entity who would need to vote on such an ordinance in a public meeting.)
Fast forward to today, and records requests (which have also come from the Hendersonville Star News) continue to be news itself in Sumner County.
The situation is yet more proof of the need for our local governments to consider ways to reduce the cost and improve efficiency of transparency through technology or better processes. This is certainly a better alternative to reducing transparency itself because we can’t afford it.
There are examples across the country — and some in Tennessee, too — where local communities and their governments are embracing “open data” and “open government,” with a mission of making it easier — and cheaper in the long run — for citizens to stay informed and engaged in local government, and yes, be a watchdog.
It’s a conversation that needs to take place at all levels — citizens working hand in hand with their elected officials and government staff.
For when we tally up at the end of the day, this we know: A closed government is much more costly than an open one.
— Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep up with open government and sign up for TCOG’s email newsletter on www.tcog.info.