Opening government

We discussed open government in the Ethan Allen Room of the Vermont Statehouse during the recent Digital Economy Summit (Sept. 23). His statue stood there, arm raised for recognition to speak of timeless Vermont.

I felt lonely as a grassroots Vermonter among so many public officials and authorities contemplating their status quo.

Open government is a nationwide concern and movement that we did not discuss. Is Vermont that different?

While the proverbial six degrees of separation may be just two in the green, mountainous state, knowing whom to ask may not help.

We were fortunate to be joined by a local newspaper editor, accustomed to trying to open government, who observed that there is nothing digital about this.

Open government is information, observation and participation readily available to everyone while justifiably respecting confidentiality, privacy and security.

We considered ‘digital’ to mean information available online via the Internet, while observation and participation are in person as mandated by the Open Meeting Law.

What if municipal and school budgets and spending were online as well-designed spreadsheets that citizens could explore and analyze?

What if these spreadsheets were standardized for ready comparison with other municipalities’ or school districts’ budgets and spending?

These two steps would revolutionize our knowledge of how our money is spent, energizing our participation in school- and town-meeting decision-making.

Proposed changes could be evaluated immediately, then debated and decided via the Robert’s Rules motion to create and fill a blank.

Grassroots Vermonters can open government with these tools, and others like them, as informed citizens deciding democratically.