Monday, December 06, 2010
By now, most of us GJ locals who follow the news are aware of several occurrences over the past week that have raised hackles from the halls of government in the Grand Valley to around the globe. The debate about government information, who should have access to it, and how much it should cost to retrieve it has dominated news cycles from Grand Junction to Geneva.
The editorial pages of Sunday's Sentinel provide reflection and analysis of all of these occurrences, along with opinion about what should be happening in response to the revelations, and attempts at obfuscation, that has resulted in the present information trepidation. Sorry..having too much fun there.
Perhaps the first item on my list should be the manner in which this editorial analysis and other information gets hidden behind the Sentinel's increasingly annoying paywall. To their credit, the Sentinel's stories about the Mesa County information breach have been visible to anyone, but Sunday's editorial about the incident is only available to subscribers. That editorial drew parallels between the county's inadvertent data dump and the deliberate distribution of US Government cables by WikiLeaks. Both have the potential to damage reputations at the least, lives at the worst.
However damaging the revelations may be from the WikiLeaks disclosures, they demonstrate the disrespectful and duplicitous discourse that often hides behind attempts at being diplomatic. Aptly-named conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer echoed many of similar mind in wanting to condemn WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to a lifetime of looking over his shoulder if he cannot be successfully prosecuted or otherwise dealt with in some deliberate and stealthy fashion, perhaps one straight out of a Bourne movie.
I can see the need to maintain secrecy about certain things, but I also believe that our government goes too far in many areas. The spectre of "ugly" Americanism seems to be alive and well in the boorish attitudes that pervade much of the product of "Cablegate". Further contributing to the more surreal aspects of the story are reports that the US Government is warning employees and soldiers not to read classified material, even though it already may be well into the public domain.
These cables have something in common with the e-mails between public officials that have been obtained by our local media in recent weeks. They both illustrate to me that some of our leaders not only misrepresent themselves to other leaders, they also present a questionable example to their subordinates who toil to maintain a standard of behavior and decorum that their customers expect, and that these leaders themselves betray.
I stand guilty as charged for such moments during my career in public service, and there are but a select few of these occurrences that I do not regret. Such is the paradoxical charm of representative government, and the bureaucracy that exists to support and maintain it.
As a volunteer with Mesa County Search and Rescue, the personal information that I provided to the Sheriff's Office as part of the application process may have been part of the information that was put onto an unsecured FTP site in preparation for data conversion and formatting. I expect that I'll be one of many heeding the county's advisory bulletin from last week.
Both County administration and Sheriff Hilkey and his staff deserve credit for quickly bringing the matter to the attention of the citizens they serve. Their commitment to disclosing the issue to the public, cooperating with the media, and being transparent in updating the steps being taken to mitigate the impact of the incident is admirable considering the daunting circumstances.
This doesn't mean that the mistake itself is by any means excusable, but to me it is understandable. The data conversion that necessitated the transfer of information to begin with is part of the procurement of a new Computer Aided Dispatch and Records Management System (CAD/RMS) for the Grand Junction Regional Communication Center and the bulk of the county's local law enforcement. The consolidation of these systems, especially between the GJPD and the Sheriff's Department, has been a long time coming and should be welcomed by those who value the efficiency of information sharing (with appropriate safeguards), the consolidation of similar arms of government, and the leveraging of economies of scale to accomplish both for the benefit of all.
In contrast, the City of Grand Junction has been taken to task for assigning a $1,300 price tag to a citizen's public records request. It should be noted that the request concerns the City's approval of a gravel pit on land annexed into the City that is only accessible through a residential neighborhood that is not in the City. This is yet another consequence of the haphazard annexation and questionable growth that has been the hallmark of the flawed Persigo Agreement between the City and Mesa County since it's adoption in the late 1990's.
Sentinel columnist Denny Herzog made the case that a government committed to transparency in the bulk of its operations would not let such treatment stand. I believe this to be especially true when the citizens requesting this information are essentially powerless to obtain redress at the ballot box or any other reasonable means in a representative democracy, as they do not reside in the City but stand to have their quality of life drastically impacted by a City decision.
Ralph D'Andrea has written several times about these circumstances, as he resides on Orchard Mesa where this latest Persigo travesty has also occurred. A comment to his most recent post on the subject provides information on where to donate in case you would like to help raise the funds necessary for the residents of the 29 3/4 Road area to obtain the information they need, should the City maintain their position on the matter.
Over my years in public service and as a private citizen, I have learned (sometimes the hard way) the value of a civil tongue in written communication whenever possible, in hopes of effectively illustrating the issues at hand and building consensus toward solutions that benefit all stakeholders. I hope that some of the inevitable changes that will take place as a result of these releases and controversies will have at their heart the need to conduct the business of governance with a commitment to openness and respect as a baseline, with discretion and secrecy being utilized with a great deal more judiciousness than in the past.
Time to get ready for work and get the newspaper. Have a good week ahead.