Longview News-Journal: Online access gives Texans needed look at government

Longview News-Journal
Originally published Nov. 26, 2013

The Texas Public Information Act is clear about who gets access to government documents: You do, with a few exceptions.

But just because our state has a strong open records law doesn’t always mean it’s easy to get your hands on the records you need to find out what your government is doing, how it’s spending your money, and who it’s doing business with. As anyone who has tried it knows, too many of our governmental agencies seem to work the law to make getting information difficult and time consuming. Their idea seems to be that if they wear you down, you’ll eventually get tired of trying.

So we were pleased by a report indicating some area school districts, cities and counties are working to make access easier. Others should follow their example.

Pine Tree, Hallsville and Kilgore ISDs, as well as the city of White Oak and Harrison County, earlier this month received the Gold Leadership Circle Award from the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The award is designed to recognize local governments across Texas that are striving to meet a high standard for financial transparency online. We congratulate them all.

Why is this important? Simply because it means the financial facts of these taxing entities’ business are at your fingertips, on your home computer, through the Internet. There’s no need to go to the courthouse, city hall or school administration building, no need to fill out an open records request, no need to wait while officials mull over whether to give the information to you as required or make you work harder to get it.

You simply go to the website and access the information. Period. That’s it. Of course, that also makes it available 24 hours a day so you can do your research on your own schedule.

One day perhaps all of our taxing entities will have such a system. We know others in East Texas offer more online transparency, but weren’t included in the comptroller’s list because they haven’t made their accomplishments known. For those who lag, we hope the success of the other provides some pressure to improve.

In the meantime, we encourage all taxpayers to visit their local government’s website and look around to see what information is offered. If you want to see more, let your elected officials know.

To see what’s available from taxing entities across the state, visit the comptroller’s website at www.texastransparency.org/local/. There, you can find links to your city, school district or county’s information — and see what’s missing.

All you have to do is look, and we hope you do.