Salt Lake Tribune
March 8, 2010
Salt Lake City mayor pledges cooperation with public on policies
By Ralph Becker
Jan. 6 marked the one-year anniversary of Salt Lake City's Open Government Initiative. Few other governments have taken such an aggressive approach to increase the public's ability to "look in" on city government or have government "reach out" for the public's insights and perspectives on its actions.
Over the past year, Salt Lake City's attempt to become more open and collaborative has achieved major milestones, including an extensive public outreach effort on alcohol reform, broad public input on the city's nondiscrimination policy, community collaboration on the North Temple master plan and the 1300 East reservoir, an ongoing public input and education campaign regarding Salt Lake City's future public safety complex, and the adoption of an Open Government Policy.
We have also learned, often the hard way, of the troubles that occur when the public is not involved, notified early enough, or kept up to date about the city's decision-making process. The confusion surrounding the initial announcement of the public safety building and the community's uncertainty with the Sorenson Center transition are clear examples of where the city could have done better and which we will use to guide us in the future.
Open government is different than almost any other type of policy the city has adopted. The adoption of an open government policy does not mean Salt Lake City was opaque one moment and then transparent the next. Instead, the open government policy is the first step toward creating the organizational culture for how Salt Lake City will do business with the community. What this organizational culture will mean for Salt Lake City is even new to us, but we are feeling our way through the many pockets and corners of city government that need to be made more transparent for the public.
Perhaps most important, changing the city's organizational culture to embody the principles of the open government policy will be a learning process for everyone. Together, the city and community need to learn which kinds of decisions warrant which type of public involvement. We don't want to exclude anyone, but we also don't want to exhaust the public's patience.
Over the next year, Salt Lake City's Open Government Initiative will continue to evolve. As the city learns of new areas where additional public disclosure and involvement are needed, we will open those doors.
Our final goal is not that everyone ultimately agrees with the positions and policies of the city; that is impossible. Rather, we hope the public will understand why decisions were made and, through the opportunity to have their voices heard, know that the city's decisions are not made in a vacuum. From my years as an elected official, I've learned that good government does not always mean that popular decisions are made; instead, good government results from listening to and having a thorough understanding of all the perspectives and possible courses of action.As Salt Lake City moves forward in developing a culture of open government, I hope people will continue to comment on areas that are doing well and that need improvement.
Ralph Becker is the mayor of Salt Lake City. He is also a national board member for the Policy Consensus Initiative, an organization dedicated to helping state and local leaders develop a collaborative system of governance.
Updated:03/08/2010 03:54:00 PM MST