Pre-Launch Series – Opening Government

I have been thinking a lot lately about the type of campaign I want to run and the impact on people and our government I intend to have. I want to open up government to make it more useful for people who want to be involved in what their government is doing. This includes using technology to make documents easily searchable by computer and a host of other important changes.

I’ve been attending community meetings and government hearings all of my professional life.  Sometimes I’ve attended on behalf of clients as a lawyer, sometimes I’ve attended as a community leader or volunteer on a board or neighborhood group. The point is, I’ve been to more than a hundred of them and that amount of participation has caused me to think about a couple of things we could do differently. So, with Sunshine Week, a week in March dedicated to highlighting the importance of open government, I thought I’d offer a few thoughts.

“I never received notice and had no idea this was happening.”

One of the major complaints I have heard over the years – especially when something controversial is about to happen – is that people never knew it was going to happen and never received any notice. It’s easy to toss out mail you weren’t expecting. Online or text-to-phone notifications are a big help, but they only work if the notice being sent is written in everyday language.  County Government needs to modernize our communications with the public.

“I went to the hearing to give my input and no one seemed to care.”

This sentiment is one I’ve heard more times than I can count. But here’s the thing, many times people are right. Well, sort of. It isn’t typically that our elected representatives don’t care, it’s that they’ve been hearing – and hopefully learning – about the issue for weeks or months before it got to the public meeting stage.  While we hope our elected officials don’t have their minds made up in full before a hearing even begins, they’re certainly going to have some thoughts already formed.

I want to run my campaign and to serve, if elected, in a different way. If a person wants to be a part of the process, I want to create a meaningful way for her to do that. This means not being afraid to share some or all of my thinking on an issue, not being afraid of tough questions and criticism during the process from members of the public, and creating multiple channels for input. A group called Open San Diego has done a tremendous job helping the City of San Diego open its data with this policy and it’s great that a model to follow already exists!

There are 650,000 people in the 4th Supervisor’s District , so there’s no reasonable way to respond to everyone. But if we use the right tools we might be able to get close.  And if I am elected I will want to take that same type of “early involvement” approach to empower people to be involved. Please don’t hesitate to post a comment or email me at omar@omarpassons.com with your thoughts!