Open Government

September 23, 2016

 

Open Government: why do we need it?

Berkeley Heights needs to move in the direction of Open Government.    A significant percentage of our town has a general distrust in our local representatives.  An even greater percentage does not feel informed about the major initiatives that are going on in town.    Many residents can not attend the regular meetings and have a hard time finding relevant documents or videos on line. People who are looking to volunteer are unaware of committees and other opportunities to volunteer and contribute.     

Open government is the solution to these problems.  Here are some of the benefits of open government:

  • Provides free, on-demand information for citizens
  • Encourages Citizen Engagement in the Process
  • Increases Financial Transparency and Accountability
  • Sparks ideas & innovation
  • Reduces Freedom of Information requests ( OPRA )
  • Encourages Citizen Engagement and Understanding
  • Helps people understand where money comes from and where it goes
  • Elevates Acceptance of Policy Decisions

Currently, the Berkeley Heights government only publicly provides the minimum data that is required by law. In fact, the new website that is coming out will delete much information that is accessible on the current site. The only way to find out more about what is happening in our town is to make an OPRA (Open Public Records Act) request.  While that is a valuable tool, it is limited.  To make such a request, you first have to know what you are looking for and specifically request it.  There is a better way.

I believe that all public meetings should be broadcast live, and archived online.   All meeting minutes and agendas should be easily searchable.    The Council should stop abusing the executive sessions exemption to the Open Public Meetings Act.   The release of legitimate executive session meeting notes should be expedited, and those notes should be more detailed. 

The technology to make this happen is currently available and many towns are moving towards open government, including towns as close as New Providence and Summit.    The days of backroom politics are over.   Let's take the next step.