The limits on freedom of speech are clear enough: You can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theater and you can’t reveal the movements of ships and troops at a time of way.
The limits on the access to government information is quite different.
What’s so amazing about local government, and every other level as well, is how officials not only kept information secret from the public but themselves as well.
The City Council, for one of a thousand examples, didn’t know that when they tripled the trash fee in the name of full cost recovery of services to the public, they exempted thousands of households at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.
For its part, the LAUSD has refused every entreaty for years to examine the data from standardized tests to see what they could learn about the success of classroom teachers in raising the scores of their students over time.
Publication by the LA Times of how 6,000 teachers’ students scored on tests and the questions that raised about performance have sent the unions and education lobby into a tizzy.
Their cry is that test score performance is only part of the information needed to evaluate how well a teacher is doing.
That’s true of course but the unions have fought vigorously for years any kind of valid method of “stulling” teachers using subjective standards based on observation and objective standards based on tests.
What the Times’ data shows is that some teachers consistently at the bottom with the students in the classes scoring worse than others and that some teachers consistently produce students who show improvement on tests.
It could be that in many cases the best performing teachers are simply teaching to test and doing nothing to really educate their children.
It could also be that many at the bottom are saying to hell with the tests, the kids need their minds opened up, their imaginations sparked to life, to learn to think and comprehend. It could be that the children they teach have better outcomes over time than those who score well on tests.
But without the data and rigorous examination about what is going on and what works and doesn’t and for whom, it remains an example of how our public officials prefer the blissful state of ignorance — as long as they can keep us ignorant to.
For years, local agencies have done their best to keep salary information secret — a wall that has been chipped away at by the media and blogosphere.
It’s only now when the scandals in Bell and Vernon have raised the public ire that LA city and county officials have posted searchable databases with positions and salaries.
Of course, they withhold the names as much as possible even though they are public information under the law and the Constitution and are available online elsewhere in many cases.
For all the promises of transparency, our local government agencies do their best to keep as much information secret as possible or to make it as obscure and hard to understand as possible.
Politicians and bureaucrats have armies of people to make sure that even when information is made available, it is spun to delude and confuse the public.
Openness and transparency in all matters of government is one of the four pillars of the LA Clean Sweep movement (lacleansweep.com).
We need volunteers — lawyers and people with good research skills — to step forward to help us become a clearinghouse of information City Hall doesn’t want us to know.
We intend to vigorously use the California Public Records Act to get the information the public needs to know to understand what is really going on at City Hall.
Knowledge is power and the name of the game in reforming City Hall and creating a balanced and inclusive public culture is power.
The community will never have the kind of responsive and responsible city government it yearns for without better knowledge and better people in office.