Village government is praising itself for taking the worthy step of digitizing its records and streaming village council meetings online.
We’ll believe it is a step toward transparency, as Mayor Anthony Calderone said, if we see it. Digitizing a document isn’t the same as making it available. Being transparent is not about technology, even if it aids the process. Transparency is a philosophical approach to governance.
Last month, the village board approved a contract with a tech company whose services it will use to digitize records and to stream village board meetings.
Before it came to a vote, Calderone talked, abstractly, about “transparency,” “efficiency” and how this was going to bring village government “to the next level.”
It has that potential. As he noted, when the service is rolled out, it will make it easier for the village clerk to access records requests when the information is stored digitally. And, yes, citizens will be able to watch meetings live on their computers and mobile devices.
So there will be increased efficiency. The increased-transparency bit is anybody’s guess, though.
The village can roll out this “whole new world of software,” as Calderone put it, but more light will be shed on village business only if the powers-that-be actually agree to increased access.
This is the right move, and Calderone was spot on when he said that this is the wave of the future, and it’s something that the village is eventually going to have to do.
But keep in mind that, when reporting, this publication has to submit questions to the Mayor’s Office of Public Affairs (a.k.a. Calderone).
Here’s what often happens. We contact Calderone midway through the week (usually Wednesday or Thursday). All of our questions need to be ready for him (everything for an entire week’s paper). His record of getting back to us is OK, but, a lot of the time, we get nothing. Perhaps because, as he once said, “The mayor’s office will require some time to research the requested information.”
Village employees are not allowed to talk to us without his consent, either. He explained, “I may direct others to provide information to you … however, you must provide questions [to me] first.”
Since Calderone created the office in June, Village Administrator Tim Gillian, who is paid $90,000 a year to handle village business, has answered about a half a dozen of our questions.
“Requests for information … must come through the mayor’s office,” Gillian wrote us, early on, when we asked about a line item in this year’s budget.
“My desire is to interact more efficiently with the press,” Calderone once said about the office. We talk to him, on average, about 80 minutes per month (we’re being generous, too, as our weekly conversations usually span between 10-20 minutes).
Does any of this sound like “transparency” or “efficiency”? We didn’t think so. But, perhaps this new software can take local government to the “next level” – a place where officials answer the phones.