I recently got an email from the Prince George's County Board of License Commissioners, aka the liquor board, because I asked to be kept informed about upcoming hearings after the Club Amazon debacle.
Unfortunately, the staffer at the commissioner's office sent the email with every one's email address exposed in the to: line. It's really not her fault. The Prince George's County Government simply doesn't want to make information easily available to its citizens.
The email contained the entire docket for the next two hearings. It would be so much better if the PG County government would just let me subscribe to a simple web service that would inform me via email when any liquor license is under review in zipcode(s) of my choice.
This highlights a much bigger problem in Prince George's County. Have you ever tried to find useful county data? I mean something more useful than Jack Johnson's photo.
For example, who holds liquor licenses in the county? How many violations do they have? Can you easily cross reference the license holders and their affiliates to any campaign donors?
But it's not just liquor licenses. Just try to find the email address of a county official. I wanted to complain about this problem but I could not find the email address for Mr. Charles W. Wilson, the Director Office of Information Technology and Communications. We pay for their computers and blackberries, we should be able to send any county employee an email and expect a response. That is the policy in the City of Laurel.
It gets worse. Do you want to know how your precinct voted last election? Then you'll need to buy this information. It's ridiculous to buy information that your tax dollars already paid to collect!
It's time for our elected officials and candidates to demand that all public government information is made freely available via the web. The technology is here. All we need is a commitment to full electronic transparency in our government. The rule should be, when in doubt, put it out!
Oh by the way, I use the campaign websites of our local candidates to get an idea how well they understand how people use the internet to find information. It is an indicator of how well that they will demand full electronic transparency. Most of you who read this blog might feel the same way. Here are the factors I use to figure out if the campaign site is more than just an electronic billboard?
- How current is the info?
- Is it as easy to send them an email as it is to send them a contribution?
- Do they answer the email promptly?
- Or do they make you use a lame web form?
- Do they have meaningful issue papers?
- Do they have a blog?
- Do they post regularly to their blog?
- Can you subscribe to get tailored information?
- Is the information relevant and timely for voters?
- Do they have a Spanish language version? (This may be a pro or a con for you.)
- Do they provide links to additional information sources?
Here are some local campaign sites for your review. You should be able to tell very quickly which candidates "get" the web. (I'm not associated with any campaign.)
Here are some additional useful sites that I found that cover PG County politics.
Write these candidates and tell them if you think their websites are lame or useful. Let them know that you believe that all publicly accessible government information should always be available via the internet.
The standard should be that if you can get the information in person, you should be able to get that same information via the web for free.
No more web manure!