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U. students to local governments: Be more open

Transparency » Honors class wants cities, counties to adopt five guiding principles.

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Citing a Sutherland Institute analysis of online records’ availability in Utah’s 29 counties during last year’s legislative debate over the Government Records Access and Management Act (GRAMA), Krause noted that the average grade was a D.

"We’d really like to bring that up," she said, recognizing that many smaller counties are strapped for resources and personnel to keep their websites updated continuously.

At a glance

‘Best Practices’ for local government transparency

Students in the University of Utah’s Honors Think Tank on Transparency and Privacy drafted a proposal for local governments that would make their operations more open to the public. It calls for:

» Establishing a single “open government” Web page that serves as a “searchable, sortable and downloadable” repository for all public government information, including third-party contracts, employee compensation, financial reports and requests for police and fire service.

» Collecting, generating and maintaining government information in digital form and making it available on the open-government Web page.

» Considering emails, instant messages and other electronic communications made with government-supplied equipment to be public records.

» Requiring elected officials and appointed senior administrators to post advance schedules of public meetings online and to commit to developing a culture of transparency.

» Making all public meetings truly transparent, through live streaming on the Internet (with opportunities for citizen commentary online) or posting of proceedings on the website within 48 hours of the meeting.

Check these websites

About the Think Tank: http://campusguides.lib.utah.edu/honors

The Transparency Project: http://www.utahtransparencyproject.org/#!the-think-tank

The Privacy Project: http://gounlisted.wordpress.com

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The project’s intent was not to be critical of those governments, Tu added, but to "suggest things they can do to achieve transparency." Right now, she said, Salt Lake City boasts the most transparent system, reaping an A minus, while Salt Lake County earned a B.

As the students wrapped up their development of the guiding principles, they began reaching out to organizations for support. Knowing that government processes move slowly and that their class ends in May, Dryer said, the students hope these backers will help push for long-term implementation of these principles.

Just last week, the students gained an endorsement from the Utah League of Women Voters. They also have received considerable support from the Sutherland Institute, Common Cause, Utah Media Coalition, Utah Broadcasters Association, Society of Professional Journalists and The Tribune.

The students’ work thrills open-records advocate Claire Geddes.

"It’s something the state really, really needs," she said. "It would help people become more involved. People really have lost faith in government because it is difficult to figure out the system. Anything we can do to make government accessible to the public is good for everyone, including lawmakers."

Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon welcomed the chance for Think Tank students to have their recommendations placed before the County Council for consideration.

"The students’ focus on transparency is warranted," he said. "Transparency is one of the basic tenets of good government and a democratic government. Without accessibility and transparency, citizens lose a great deal of power over how their community is governed."


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