How Local Government Has It Easier Than Yelp

Yelp may be a popular website for positing restaurant (and other) reviews, but it has a controversy on its hands. Some businesses are complaining about Yelp’s practice of hiding some reviews behind a link (that is, where one has to click the link to see all posted reviews). Some restaurateurs contend that Yelp hides favorable reviews to punish establishments that won’t advertise on Yelp.

(Yelp denies this, and an academic review of Yelp’s practices suggests that at least there’s no readily-apparent bias in how Yelp displays reviews.)

Yelp has a problem because its formula for displaying reviews is a company secret that breeds suspicion that it’s a rigged formula. (Ironically, Yelp contends that it hides the method by which it assesses reviews to keep businesses from gaming the website’s process).

Local government has it easier, at least in Wisconsin: follow publsihed rules for Open Meetings (Wis. Stats. §§ 19.81-19.98) and Public Records (Wis. Stat. §§ 19.31 – 19.39) and the resulting transparency will reduce suspicion and rumor.

There’s no need to craft a particular strategy to deal with public concerns – the law lays out – and requires – a particular path.

Why, then, if local governments have a mandatory legal framework that should make official conduct more open and reputable, do so many officials tend toward the secretive and hidden?

They do this should they place their own private needs and interests – including a should limitless need for grand tales of their own supposed triumphs – ahead of clear law and good policy. They discard the ready-made framework of the law, and fall into a situation not much different from Yelp.

Officials’ abandonment of good law for selfish private action is both wrong specifically and impractical generally. Just as no official is above the law, so no community deserves conditions beneath the law. That lower condition is one of errors of planning and allocation, and a condition that could have been avoid with the transparency that the law requires.

More about the Yelp reviews controversy:

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