OTHER OPINION: PUBLIC DATA | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

OTHER OPINION: PUBLIC DATA

Information missing online

Posted: December 7, 2010 - 9:02pm

You can easily do a Google search and find an owner's manual for a 1980 refrigerator. You can go online and find the sale price from dozens of stores for an iPhone. You can go to genealogy web sites and trace your family's name back hundreds of years.
But you often can't find where governments spend their money, who is in your local jail, or what salaries are paid to your local public employees.
And, so far, Minnesota residents haven't been able to find out what projects have been funded by hundreds of millions of tax dollars they've paid under the two-year-old Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.
In the current fiscal year alone, lawmakers have allocated $400 million for projects ranging from grants for artists to purchases of wildlife habitat.
A legislative commission is beginning to bring some more light to the process by developing a central online resource so taxpayers can find out where money has been distributed. But even the commission in charge of the web site development is having trouble finding all the information because 17 state agencies are involved in distributing the Legacy money.
While local, state and federal governments have been better about making public information easily available online, there is still a long way to go.
While some counties, including Blue Earth County, have sites listing everyone who is in jail and why, most counties still don't.
And there are still counties that don't even videotape their county commissioner meetings and make them available online or on public access stations.
To be sure, developing good online resources costs money - something harder to come by in difficult economic times. But governments need to continue methodically adding more public information online. It's a valuable and powerful tool for taxpayers that deserves high priority in funding.
Online resources allow governments to function more efficiently and gives the public the easy access to public information they have every right to see.