Thursday, November 15, 2007

The City's Idea of Public Information

An informed public can be inconvenient for those in power. When the people have the facts, keep a close eye on the actions of public officials, and express their concerns or make suggestions, well, it is a democratic distraction. The most recent suggestion for cutting city expenses reflects the administration's conception of public information as a controlled one-way process.

In a late coming email yesterday, Susan Thomas, Mayor Coody's public information and policy adviser, laid out the administration's proposal to gut the community's unique Public, Education, and Government cable system in the name of efficiency. Fewer meetings of public boards and commissions will be covered on the government channel, and it will likely kill that pesky community access television that thinks it's about freedom of expression.

There might be good reasons to replace some of the city employees involved, but it would be difficult to make a case that the function is less important to citizens than funding out-of-state travel by administrators. It appears to be more of an excuse to curtail the ability of citizens to keep an eye on public meetings and to express their views on community access cable. You'll recall that the last cost savings measure was to abolish transcripts of meetings of the City Council and Planning Commission, and timely website updates to the council agenda appear to be a thing of the past.

Adding insult to injury, Thomas says the administration will add one loyal full-time public information coordinator position to feed the people the government's positions in a monthly e-newsletter and updates on the wastewater cost overruns and street bond program. They want to be able to tell you what they want you to know, but they can do without having you knowing what they're really doing or letting them know what you think. When you do speak up, they'll say you're misinformed and don't know what you're talking about. I mean even more than they do already.

There are cuts to be made and programs to be abolished, but eliminating an informed citizenry should not be among them.

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