Tag Archives: transparency

A Question

26 Feb

Which is Buffalo and WNY’s bigger problem?

The poor quality of substantive policy decisions, or the process and its utter lack of meaningful merit or transparency? Or is it simply that the process is the direct and intended result of poor policy, thus making the whole thing an interconnected, overcomplicated mess that help keeps government acts and omissions from adequate public review and scrutiny? 


Open Government Brainstorm and The Birthers

3 Jun

During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama pledged to launch an information revolution. One that would provide access to information in universally accessible formats, put legislation online, allow for analysis of federal contracts, display lobbying data and a prosecute a fundamental change in the way Freedom of Information Act data was handled and distributed.

He has made some progress in this area, but the federal government is the Titanic of data warehouses. It takes some time to right the ship and seeing as how we’re still in the beginning stages of this administration, I’m pleased to see some positive steps and eagerly await further steps towards transparency.

Here is a speech Obama gave at Google Headquarters in 2008 in which he laid out his ambitious agenda:


On January 21st, he announced major revisions to the FOIA regulations and has moved a significant amount of data online for public review.

One of the other immediate steps his administration undertook was to establish a third party website on which people could brainstorm and provide input into the process of opening government, it is hosted on Ideascale, which is described as follows:

Users submit ideas while the community comments and votes on the ideas. Innovation is driven by the wisdom of the crowd.

Check out the Obama Administration Open Government page on the site. Here’s the mission statement as listed on the frontpage:

How can we strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness by making government more transparent, participatory, and collaborative? Last week, the White House launched an unprecedented online process for public engagement in policymaking.

That process began with a week of Brainstorming, hosted by the National Academy of Public Administration. Our goal is to use the ideas from this first phase of the process as well as other input to inform deeper discussion on the Open Government blog in the Discussion phase.

A quick sample of what the wisdom of the crowd has resulted in is pretty incredible. Here’s some of the top entries:

  • Produce Obama’s Long Form Birth Certificate and College Records
  • Where is the Birth Certificate???
  • Demonstrate that you are a natural-born citizen.
  • Prove with your birth certificate you are fit for duty as Commander in Chief

What we’re seeing here is the strength of the small “Birther” movement.  A group of people who believe the President isn’t really a U.S. citizen and is not lawfully eligible to serve as President.  These guys are one left turn down Crazy Street from the 9/11 Truthers and right around the bend from the “Obama is a muslim sleeper agent sent to destroy America” crowd.

I’m not going to go about debunking this nonsense conspiracy theory, but the birther movement dominance of a well-intentioned tool for making goverment more accessible is instructive in many ways.  It demonstrates that many people in our country are seemingly incapable of having a legitimate discussion on policy and government.  It also demonstrates that for all the ballyhooed demands for transparency and sunlight in government, most people ignore opportunities to get involved.  Finally, it demonstrates to cynical politicians that we’re just not “ready” to participate in serious discussions.  It allows them to keep government closed off to the people because we make mockery of it when invited to participate. When we act like petulant children, we get the government we deserve.

Which is the most dangerous lesson of all.

Crowdsourcing the Bastards’ Information

2 Apr

Artvoice has posted some city government materials it obtained via FOIL request, and invites you to peruse it and point out stuff that you find interesting/scandalous/fascinating/telling. Transparency is your friend.

The News’ Jim Heaney, meanwhile, has posted Albany’s earmarks.

Gillibrand’s Questionnaire and WNY Visit

30 Jan

It’s not particularly fascinating, but it does represent some form of contemporary transparency and gives you a glimpse into what Paterson was looking for. Senator Gillibrand’s website is here.

Gillibrand will be in Western New York this weekend, but she’ll be meeting with certain officials and electeds. Not with you. Or you.

Her plan is to meet with a handful of local elected officials, the Mayor and the County Executive, then travel to Niagara Falls to do the same up there.

Her whirlwind trip into WNY already has some local officials feeling snubbed by the junior Senator as they were not invited to attend the small event tomorrow afternoon in downtown Buffalo.

Word is Gillibrand already has her hand out too, looking for someone to set up a local fundraising committee for her in the upcoming weeks.

NO public appearances are planned for the trip to WNY.

That’s just like when Caroline came to Buffalo, except without the … no, it’s just like it.

Dear Joel Rose:

30 Aug

If you’re going to close out an email to your anti-casino recipient list with this:

Meanwhile, we do not have the luxury of ignoring the battle for public opinion. The pro-casino talk show hosts and bloggers have been having a field day, spreading lies about our motivations and our sources of funding, along with the usual nonsense about the likely impact of a casino. It is up to us, that is, it is up to all of us including YOU, to set the record straight. Please do what you can to help win the battle for public opinion.

Perhaps you would then like to ask your benefactors at the Network for Religious Communities and allies at Citizens for Better Buffalo to open the books so we can all see who has received Wendt Foundation largesse?

Only then can we really determine who’s been “spreading lies”. And since I’m not aware of another blog that posted about the casino ruling yesterday, I’m assuming you were referring to me, in which case I’d love for you to show me the basis for your charge that I am “pro-casino”.

I know you’re all about the transparency and accuracy, so I eagerly await the Network’s and CBB’s financial disclosures. After all, you brought it up. Thanks so much.

Love, BP

UPDATE: I have pasted Joel Rose’s response in comments because he claims not to be able to post comments.

Open Book New York

17 Jun

The state comptroller has a new website:

New Yorkers have a right to know how their tax dollars are spent. Open Book New York is a project by the Office of the State Comptroller that gives taxpayers unprecedented access to the financial information of State government.

Easy-to-use online search tools identify spending for 113 State agencies and public authorities and display more than 60,000 State contracts. These tools will help you find out how much state government spends on everything from travel and employees’ salaries to telephones and consultants. You can also search State contracts in real time to see who is doing business with the State.

The long crawl towards Albany transparency continues apace.