Friday, September 25, 2009

FOIA Friday - September 5, 2009

It's been a while since I've done a FOIA Friday - for a number of reasons - but my friend and fellow blogger, Bob Weeks, who writes at Wichita Liberty, has a post worthy of a FOIA Friday highlight.

You see, Wichita is in the process of selecting a firm to plan its downtown development. Now, Toledo could teach Wichita a thing or two about what NOT to do when it comes to downtown development, but that's not the point.

They've set public meetings during which the final four firms will make their presentations. Wanting to be prepared for the public meeting, Bob asked for copies of the proposals. He was told he couldn't have them, even though a select group of citizens had already received them.

And Bob's point was critical: how could citizens provide input about the selection process and the best company to hire if they couldn't read the proposals ahead of time - especially when the price tag for the plan was $475,000?

Bob wasn't the only one denied access to the records. As the Wichita Eagle reported:

"Bob Weeks, a blogger who runs WichitaLiberty.org, asked for the proposals more than two weeks ago.

The city denied his request, saying the proposals wouldn't be public until the City Council accepted one or rejected them all.

The Eagle got the same response and began questioning why the proposals that had already been circulated to non-city employees would be sealed.

The Eagle contended that the proposals should be public and that releasing them fits with the city's stated mission to be more transparent and make downtown's future a public process.

Layton said the city was concerned that releasing the proposals before the consultants gave presentations Tuesday and Wednesday could interfere with the competitive process since each would have access to the other's proposal.

But he agreed that making the proposals public could improve the process by giving more people a chance to review them and give informed opinions.

Weeks said he wanted to review the proposals before the presentations in public meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.

He got to see them Wednesday afternoon, about an hour before the second meeting."

The Eagle later opined:

"They can choose, as the city has now done, to release the information. And they should realize that doing so is in their best interests, as it can lead to better results.

By being open, governments allow the public to be part of the process and provide input. When that happens, the public tends to have more support for and confidence in the final decisions. Without such openness, the opposite tends to happen."

Because of the efforts of a Bob Weeks, and the support of the local paper, all the citizens in Wichita finally got access to the public records and were able to provide direction to their public servants - and that's the way it should be.

Thanks, Bob, for your continued efforts!

1 comment:

Tim Higgins said...

Maggie,

Proof yet again of the positive aspect of blogging, something that appears to be largely in disrepute among the mainstream media.

Bravo to my friends at the Eagle for giving credit where it is due, and for likewise championing a more open local government. Oh that we should be so blessed with such a local "daily" paper.

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