A Pretty Face

The just-released East Lansing website takes on a fresh bureaucratic appearance with little to no substantial content displayed for hard-working taxpayers to get an accurate look at their city government-in-action through browsing the site. (Try to find pre-2009 Council Minutes, for example --we couldn't). Today, the taxpayer expects and deserves a state-of-the-art website that serves the entire community with full openness and transparency. Does this new website deliver on this 21st century expectation? NO!

We surfed every area government website --the State of Michigan, Michigan State University, Ingham County, the City of Lansing, and five area Townships-- every one of these websites had full accessibility and transparency. One access issue that you can check for yourself is the display of URLs for PDF files. Every other government website we checked has a “copy, paste, and link" capability. East Lansing does not --NO URLs for PDF files. This is especially frustrating and suspect because, a year ago, during the City Center II debate, there was concern in the community that PDF URLs could not be “captured and linked.” At the time, we were told that the city would fix that problem when it upgraded the website, and they claimed they were actively engaged in doing exactly that.

At that time, we figured out a “work-around” --we could right-click the link, call up “properties,” and capture the URL. Well, that doesn't work anymore --the city sure “fixed” that little problem for us. And we discovered one other problem --the “search” function for the “NO-URL-City Charter” doesn't work (it very well may not work in other PDFs, as well). Of course, we'd love to give you the URL so you can go there and see for yourself, but, of course, we can't, because there is NO URL for that PDF file (or any others). We're sorry. But, apparently, the city is not.

This "upgraded" website represents a costly step backward for the city. Without access, openness, transparency, and full disclosure, there is a diminished chance that city officials can be held accountable for their actions. The new website makes it difficult and almost impossible for the taxpayers to access full and complete accurate information. The new website hinders inclusive viewing of public documents. There is very little linkable content available for people interested in historical city data, for example.

What does the city think would happen if people, other than the central city bureaucracy, were to have access to the documents filed deep within the city archives? Would there be a different history written, or a more accurate understanding of past actions of both current and past city councils and city managers? Is that a dangerous thought? Must we hide the truth? All city documents are created by computer and exist in PDF format but are not made freely available for community reading; why not?

Nearby Delhi Township has gone so far as to include all “Attachments” in its fully-accessible, web-posted, Township Board “Agenda Packet” --here's the URL so you can take a look at a local government committed to openness and transparency: Delhi Township

We note that Public Response receives the Council Packet each week for a fee of $260 per year. To receive the packet a FOIA request is a necessary step. An open, transparent, and accountable city government would make all this day-to-day information available on its website for easy access and review by its taxpayers. In addition to the council packet information all PDF files should be linkable and all the historic data in the East Lansing archives should be placed on the website and linkable. Why is this information not there? We believe that the residents of East Lansing expect less propaganda and more current and historical information --all free, and all linkable-- on the website!

Apparently, we have hired a city manager intent on keeping vital public information secret --hiding the truth, going back to the 19th century, instead of moving forward into the 21st. He must have been trained to think that way and so he does what he is told to do. But, perhaps, what is worse is the realization that our current City Council must share that sense of secrecy and fear of exposure.

Our city's website tells the world that our City Manager (and City Council) enjoys looking out from City Hall but fears and restricts others who want to see and focus inward. He must feel it is his job to guard the status quo of secrecy that he has inherited, and has helped to protect and propagate. And he is rewarded very well with our tax dollars for his actions.

Public Response (http://publicresponse.com) stands ready to provide its readers with all of the openness and transparency that the city seems to be unwilling to provide --we will continue to shine that bright light of public scrutiny on the management of our city to the best of our ability. Of course, this really is not PR's responsibility --it is the city's --and we did ask the city to turn those spotlights on over a year ago. Instead --and in direct contradiction to their stated intent-- the city started turning off all the lights that it could, taking us deeper and deeper into that black hole of opaque secrecy. Your tax dollars hard at work --so sad.

Jim Cuddeback -East Lansing
Phil Bellfy -East Lansing
Others - East Lansing