December 4, 2012

There’s This Thing . . . It’s Called The Internet

One of my friends complained to me the other day that he could not find a website for a new business after Googling for a minute or two. He quickly decided that it had to be a scam — who could possibly own a business and not have a website?

Like my friend, most people use the Internet as their primary source for information. We expect to find everything we want with a few clicks, whether it is information on a new business, yoga videos for your cat, or a trip to the virtual banana label museum. Or more plausibly, a search for your city council’s upcoming meeting agenda. Because the majority of us use the Internet daily, it is frustrating when we cannot find something we are looking for.

It is especially frustrating when the information we cannot find is supposed to be public. Jefferson City just announced that the city will switch to an electronic record-keeping system to make city information more available to the general public. Our capital city already provides a good amount of information on its website, but I applaud the city for valuing accessibility of public information and seeking ways to provide it more readily. There are many municipalities and counties that do not prove this to be a priority. For example, Scott County does not even post its budget online.

To me, not providing budget information online is like getting in your car at 10 p.m. and saying, “Ugh, you know I really just don’t feel like turning on my headlights right now.” It is something that is so simple, takes little time or effort, and would benefit everyone.

More municipalities need to join the 21st century and provide public information on their websites. The Illinois Policy Institute provides a 10-point transparency checklist as a good starting point. People have a right to know about their government and the easiest way to give them information is on the Internet. In the meantime, you can use Show-Me Sunshine and Show-Me Living to dig into public documents and state government spending.

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