Beyond Paper Packets for Only a Few

A practice of good government isn’t a favor to someone who asks for it; it’s the standard that public officials should meet consistently. It’s not meant to be an occasional thing.

If you’ve watched Whitewater, Wisconsin’s Planning Commission in action, then you know that city employees and the city’s paid consultant will refer to public documents in a packet. “It’s in your packet,” they’ll say. They mean their packet, not one that residents get to see. Public documents, all of them, but not readily available.

I’ve written about this before. See, “It’s In Your Packet”. Afterward, a sharp reader wrote to me, and showed me that nearby Beloit, Wisconsin puts all of its meeting packets online, and even has an email sign-up where residents can get updates on when new packets go online. I wrote about Beloit’s good practice. See, It’s Online for All: The City of Beloit’s Good Government Example.

Whitewater’s July Planning Commission meeting put the packet online, but for tonight’s meeting about a possible Walmart expansion, there’s just the agenda.

Beloit is a city with every possible economic problem, but that hasn’t stopped them from doing the right thing.

If there’s any small, narrow, closed, self-declared elite in America, it’s to be found in Whitewater, Wisconsin. These gentlemen treat public documents on public matters created at public expense as Faberge eggs, to be kept locked away.

This isn’t an administrative problem, a clerical problem, or a website problem — it’s a leadership problem. When the gentlemen who now head departments commit to a change, as an ongoing commitment to a new and better politics, will this change. That might come from these men, but far more likely, it will come from a new generation that will discard current practices in favor of more open and modern ones, consistent with the promises of Wisconsin for good, open government.

It’s happening elsewhere in Wisconsin, and it will one day happen here.

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