September 16, 2008

A step in the right direction

Black Hills Monitor has taken Governor Mike Rounds and his administration to task for giving little leadership in the area of open government. Their active participation in killing a good open records measure (SB-189) offered by Senator Nancy Turbak Berry of Watertown last year was disappointing. Their tactics were unconscionable.

On a separate but related issue, the Rounds administration opposed and defeated HB1233, which would have created a state web site containing public financial information and other state records. Ignoring the fact that such information is not as readily available to folks in Oelrichs, Wanblee, Kidder, Bruce -- or anywhere else outside of Pierre -- Rounds said it wasn't a matter of open government, it was a matter of accessibility. Excuse me? Then the Gov proceeded to say that it would cost too much to create such a web site and too much to maintain.

In a posting last March, we criticized the Governor on this issue and suggested that he might take a lesson from his fellow Republican Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, whose administration had established a site called Checkbook Online, listing all major state expenditures. Yes, this was long before Sarah Palin's star began to rise in national politics.

I'd like to know what prompted Governor Rounds to change his mind about such a web site. Perhaps he found some money tucked away somewhere? In any event, last Friday (September 12) the Governor announced creation of OpenSD, a web site that he says "...will be the one place on the internet to go for government records and information...that will help our citizens be more informed, involved, and will become the central portal to government information in South Dakota."
I doubt that the emergence of this new South Dakota web site had anything to do with Sarah Palin's selection as McCain's running mate. And I'm certain it had nothing to do with Black Hills Monitor advocacy. I'd like to believe that Mike Rounds did it because it's the right thing to do.
Now that the information is starting to flow, maybe it can be organized in a more user-friendly way. State bureaucrats, lobbyists, and policy wonks in Pierre will no doubt find it reasonably understandable, if they explore it closely. The rest of us will have to work harder navigating through the information -- not because we're incapable of understanding it, but because it's presented in a typically bureaucratic way. Even Alaska's Checkbook Online, which is far more robust that OpenSD, appears created by folks who would find Reader's Digest confusing, because it's clearly written and organized for common folk.
But OpenSD is a good first step! Congratulations to Governor Mike Rounds and others who've made this happen.
Now, about that open records legislation...

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