Freedom of information and politics

Filed under: Opinion |

There are some politicians who, given their druthers, would prefer to limit the public’s access to information. Already, legislative leaders in Denver have introduced several House and Senate bills that would directly impact your ability to get information.

For instance, Senate Bill 69 would require that county employees only be identified by title, rather than by name and title, when the boards of commissioners publish salary information for county employees twice annually in a legal newspaper within their counties. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Lois Tochtrop and Rep. Greg Brophy. It was assigned to Senate Local Government Committee. This change is not consistent with open government or freedom of information. Removing the names is simply another way to limit the public’s ability to monitor how its tax dollars are being spent. Why shouldn’t the public be allowed to know who is making how much within county government?

This bill was defeated by the House in 2004 and will probably be defeated again, but the fact that it’s being considered again, and the very nature of the legislation, bothers me. If politicians are trying to deny information, such as the compensation received by public employees, what else are they trying to hide and what will be kept secret in the future from the public?

Jerry Smith, building a better community

We are lucky to have Jerry Smith, CEO of the United Way, as a leader in our community. The United Way’s mission statement: “Pikes Peak United Way improves people’s lives by creating sustained positive changes in community conditions.” Jerry’s current initiative follows the mission statement to a “T.” Jerry is spearheading an effort to do something similar to what Jacksonville, Fla., calls the “Quality of Life Progress Report”. I find this very exciting and it would really put some accountability on some sectors of our community.

What could we accomplish as a community if we had benchmarks and report cards for things such as educational excellence, growing a more vibrant economy, preserving the natural environment, promoting social well-being, arts, culture and recreation, a healthy community, responsive government, transportation and keeping the community safe?

When I say benchmarks and report cards, I’m not kidding. Jacksonville did exactly that. (Check out www.jcci.org for more detail, the site was being upgraded at the time of this writing so you may have check back.) Jacksonville has measured its progress on the above issues for 20 years. Each year, these quality-of-life indicators get either a gold star, meaning the indicator is moving in a positive direction, a red flag, meaning the indicator is moving in a negative direction, or a target, meaning the target item was met.

As an example, under the “growing a vibrant economy” heading, the indicators are:

n net employment growth

n unemployment rate

n children in poverty

n recipients of public assistance

n affordability of a single-family home

n new housing starts

n gross tonnage handled by marine terminals.

O.K. so the marine terminal indicator probably wouldn’t be a big indicator for our area & unless we were to factor in the gross tonnage of the Pueblo Reservoir, which would lead to another question: What is the tonnage at the Pueblo Reservoir?

Anyway, you get my drift. What I really like about this program is the accountability aspect. Would our local governmental entities be considered to be responsive? (I bet if you ask the charter review committee the answer would be no.) If we are able to implement this quality of life progress report, local government would get a report card every year. This goes back to freedom of information also. If government didn’t get a good indicator on their progress report, would the politicians try to keep it quiet?

I am personally behind this idea and believe it would improve our quality of life, not just for us in the business community, but also for my 4- and 2-year-old when they are ready to break out into the community. (I guess they have their pre-K community now.) Good luck, Jerry, and let me know how I may be of assistance in this exceptional initiative.

Nocturnal Tomatoes and Save the Dates

Junior Achievement’s Annual Gala will be held May 7 at the Antlers Hilton. The band that evening is not going to be an old swing band that your parents liked. Nocturnal Tomatoes will be performing. Alice Cooper (how old is he now?) claims Nocturnal Tomatoes is the “best local band in America right now.” You won’t want to miss this event. Call Marsha Larson at Vectra Bank at 575-6421 if you want more information.

Along the line of events you don’t want to miss is the Salvation Army’s Gala benefiting the New Hope Center. This event is at the Broadmoor (sorry again, no little “A”). The Army is bringing William Webster to town. Webster is a former CIA director, so the theme of this great evening will be “spy-stuff.” I wonder if James Bond or any of the Bond girls will be in attendance. (Hope my wife doesn’t read my columns.)

Call Rose Mertz at 884-1050 for more information.