Monday, January 24, 2011

Should cities publish ordinances online?

In last week’s update I described my plan to use social media as a delivery vehicle for videos of what I believe to be definitive debates in the House of Representatives. I decided to test this policy last week and sent the following message out on Twitter, Facebook and Google Chat:

“Should cities publish ordinances online? 2010 House debate: Video: Bill: Vote:”

Senate Bill 1863 proposed to require towns to place their city ordinances online for all to see.

One of the reasons elected officials are able to inappropriately govern their citizenry is because of their constant access to important governing documents. Whether it be the city code, zoning documents or budget documents, the possession of this data results in the governing having the knowledge of the details of the very complex governing process, while the governed have to figure out how to find copies of these documents. Some individuals may not know how to easily find and research these forms and must take the word of those in power without verification. The web changes all this. No longer is City Hall empowered to keep data at the expense of the populace -- the governing documents are placed online for all to see.

As a Guthrie City Councilman, one of my priorities was to secure passage of a resolution calling for the placement of the city code online. Today, Guthrie citizens can review these laws by visiting Once landing on the site, visitors are one click away from pulling up the code (click on the “I Want To” link). In addition to enhancing transparency, this service provides assistance to city employees because they no longer have to respond to as many open records requests for city documents. In short, I believe this transparency provides a net cost savings to the taxpayer.

Because of this experience, I am well aware that placing ordinances online is not a complicated or expensive process. Senate Bill 1863 required a minimal commitment by city officials to simply post a link to the file provided by the company responsible for compiling the latest version of the city code.

Senate Bill 1863 came to the House after being unanimously approved in the Senate. There was little reason to think there would be any opposition to this legislation.

The bill was presented to the House by State Representative Scott Martin. As a former Norman City official, Martin knows first hand how easy it would be for cities to post the information and how important it is for city government to be transparent.

You can imagine our surprise when the bill came under heavy attack for allegedly placing an “undue burden” on city officials. The bill was defeated by a significant margin as defenders of the status quo resorted to some of the most remarkable arguments in an effort to keep cities from having to post their laws.

I believe this was one of the defining debates of the year in that it clearly distinguished those Representatives who truly understand and believe in the importance of using technology to provide transparency and empower the citizens.

But the good part is that you don’t have to take my word for any of this. Decide for yourself! In less than 140 characters, readers can watch the web cast of the debate, read the bill and see who voted for this important transparency proposal. These links give you the ability to make informed decisions on the issues.

I look forward to utilizing social media services to provide future updates like this one during the upcoming session.

I am on Facebook at and

No comments: