Rep. Miller touts progress in government transparency, openness
CapitolBeatOK Staff Report
In a speech this week at the annual meeting of a group of legislators from across America, state Rep. Ken Miller, the Edmond Republican who has served as chairman of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, touted Oklahoma’s evolving improvements in government transparency and openness.
Miller’s optimistic analysis was seconded during a conference call today (Friday, August 6) in which CapitolBeatOK participated.
Miller was an invited speaker at the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) 37th Annual Meeting, being held in San Diego, California from August 5 – 8. According to a press release sent today to CapitolBeatOK, Miller “shared some of Oklahoma’s successes with making state government more transparent, open and accountable to the taxpayers.”
“Taxpayers not only deserve to know where their money is being spent, they need to know so they can demand greater efficiency” said Miller, who serves as a member of ALEC’s Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force. “Openness and transparency makes government accountable to the people who fund its operations and that translates into more responsible spending.”
Echoing Miller’s hopeful reading about state progress toward more openness was Bob Williams of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation and Mike Barnhart of SunshineReview.org. In a conference call, the pair pointed to Oklahoma and Missouri as states where progress toward greater disclosure has been made in recent years.
SunshineReview.org gives the state of Oklahoma a grade of B, but counties in the Sooner State are as a group given an “F,” while school districts and municipalities garner “incomplete” marks.
Brian Downs and the staff of Oklahomans for Responsible Government, based in Oklahoma City, will henceforward put great emphasis on transparency issues. In fact, early this summer the group announced it would take a step back from the state legislative process per se to devote energy to educating taxpayers on how all levels of government are operating.
The organization has pledged to recognize individuals and groups working to provide more transparency and foster the “Government 2.0 model” to become a resource for those wanting to improve the connection between government and its citizens.
“Our new focus will enable the taxpayer to see what’s going on,” said Downs. “That goes for cities, counties and school districts as well as the state. All levels of government need to be more open.”
He continued, “OFRG’s mission statement had included improving transparency, accountability and fiscal responsibility in state government. It is our belief that a more open process will result in more responsible spending and citizens holding lawmakers accountable for that spending. OFRG will also continue its fight against State Question 744 on the ballot in November.”
Despite progress at the state level, OFRG and others remain concerned about other levels of Oklahoma government. OFRG was highly critical, in an analysis circulated this spring, of lack of disclosure on municipal websites in the Sooner State. In fact, using the top six criteria of SunshineReview.org in reviewing transparency and openness in government records, OFRG found only 15 of 75 cities studied fully actually met the transparency criteria.
This spring, in an interview focused on the “Government 2.0 conference,” OFRG staff interviewed Sid Burgess of Oklahoma City, organizer of the event aimed at touting transparency and openness.
Burgess reflected, “In Oklahoma, without a doubt, the biggest missing piece is transparency. More governments and agencies need to consider this part of their primary mission. Informing citizens of what you are doing, why you are doing it, and how much it will cost is a cornerstone function in a representative government. However, having your documents easily accessible is only the first step. As they should, information often prompts conversation and questions. Government must therefore be ready and available to address that.”
Burgess said he is a fan of online information offered by the City of Manor, Texas, which “offers a good deal of information online but then follows up with website dedicated to getting feedback and ideas from citizens. If you are going to make the effort to educate your citizens, make the effort to get and listen to their feedback. Each government needs to take a hard look at how they are leveraging technology to make themselves more open, accessible, and efficient.”
Burgess said, “Oklahoma is really near the front of the pack at the state level. Thanks to some of the recent legislation, Oklahoma has been starting to make the news nationally in how we are using state policy to enact some real Gov 2.0 ideas. Certainly some states are farther ahead in applying some of these concepts but Oklahomans should be proud that we are quickly catching up.”
This week’s upbeat assessment from Rep. Miller came at the ALEC gathering, where nearly 1,500 state legislators, policy experts, and private-sector leaders from across the U.S. attended three days of intensive discussions on the critical issues facing the states and the nation.
ALEC characterizes itself as advocating “common sense, free markets, and federalism.” The San Diego sessions continuing through Sunday (August 8) feature Gov. Rick Perry of Texas; former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN); Randall Stephenson, President and CEO of AT&T; Greg Babe, President and CEO of Bayer Corporation; John Fund, columnist at The Wall Street Journal; Scott Rasmussen, President of Rasmussen Reports; Ed Royce, Representative from California; Lynn Salo, VP Allergan Medical US Breast Aesthetics Division; and Cal Thomas, syndicated columnist.
ALEC works through nine Task Forces, which include Health and Human Services; Energy, Environment, and Agriculture; Education Tax and Fiscal Policy; Public Safety and Elections, Civil Justice; Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development; Telecommunications and Information Technology; and International Relations. Each year, state legislatures consider close to 1,000 bills that are based, at least in part, on ALEC Model Legislation. Hundreds of these bills are enacted every year.
NOTE: Editor Patrick B. McGuigan contributed to this report.