By TOM HONIG
Truly important government decisions aren't always easy to notice. Sometimes it's the decisions that pass with little notice that really make a difference.
That's the case with a vote by the Santa Cruz City Council Tuesday night. The council approved recommendations from a citizens' technology committee that has researched and promoted new uses of technology -- all for the purpose of making government more open and more responsive to the public.
I admit to questioning the process -- largely because I'm not a techie and I have a skepticism about relying too much on machines. But just a tiny bit of research shows that this effort is an important one.
If you doubt it, take a look at this video of a speech by Peter Koht, economic development coordinator for the city of Santa Cruz. Speaking at a conference recently in Washington, Koht puts his finger on one of the biggest problems facing governments at all levels: the dominating power of vocal "outliers" who dominate the political debate at the expense of "the reasonable center."
His solution? It's called Government 2.0 and that's where technology comes in. The citizens committee that reported to the City Council Tuesday asked for and received three steps that move in the direction of open government.
Here's what they requested:
1. Develop and maintain a Broadband Master Plan for addressing connectivity needs in future years. What that means is to encourage the installation of bigger cable all over Santa Cruz.
2. Systems Interoperability. What that means is implementing a plan to make data more uniform -- and readily accessible to the public. Too often, data is held in different places, and not accessible to the public.
3. A resolution authorizing the city to develop procedures to massage data under the City’s control to make it available to the public in a standardized, machine-readable format. The city would also publish a catalog of available datasets in a way that they'd be accessible to the public.
It's important to remember that all this is not being done to satisfy the lusts of techies. What it's really about is making city issues -- like the budget, or development projects -- open and accessible to all, and not just the narrow interest groups.
I come from an era where open government involved good reporting in the local newspaper. This "open government" push is about moving into the 21st Century -- making government information accessible directly to the public.
For non-techies, it might be a bit confusing. But there's little doubt about its ultimate importance.