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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

February 25, 2009 at 2:15 PM

Taxpayers should be outraged, if government can’t use search

Here are a few ideas to save the state a bunch of money. They could also also bypass roadblocks that bureaucrats are seeking to make public records less available to the public.

If you missed the story we ran Sunday, there are a couple of bills in the Legislature that would make it more expensive and difficult for the public to see records that public servants are creating and maintaining on the public’s behalf.

Proponents say government agencies are spending too much time and money disclosing e-mails and documents being requested by the public.

An example mentioned in the story involved the Everett School District, where a parent asked for e-mails sent by nine district employees over a two-week period. She wanted to prove the district was making decisions about her autistic son’s placement without consulting herm as required by law.

The district tried to bill her $1,275 to see the records, saying that’s how much it cost to provide them.

Taxpayers should be outraged. Not at the parent, but at the district, which apparently has no employees able to use the “search” function built into every e-mail system. Either that, or the district paid employees $1,275 to do something that should take less than five minutes.

Fortunately, Microsoft is offering a solution, in addition to that “search” feature in Outlook.

The company announced Sunday that it will offer 1 million vouchers for free computer training courses. It also created a Web page, www.microsoft.com/ElevateAmerica, where you can learn basic computer skills.

Let’s make sure the Everett School District — and any other public agency that says it will cost a fortune to unearth e-mails or Word documents — gets a few of those vouchers.

Another idea: Why not let the public bring USB memory sticks to collect records requested from government agencies? The documents could be loaded onto the sticks almost instantly, with no printing costs.

Better yet, why not put all the records online so the public can find them at its own cost and print them at home?

Most government documents are now digital and accessible via the Internet, but access is limited. Microsoft and Google would surely be happy to help index and expose the files to their search engines.

Comments | Topics: email, Google, Legislature

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