Bowline’s plan to overhaul city information request form good for citizens, city

Published 4:26 pm Thursday, January 16, 2020

Over the past several months, perhaps longer than that, this newspaper has both railed against the city’s public information request form and called for a new document that would make information easier and more affordable to access and eliminate language that essentially requires citizens to sign a contract regarding how public information will be used.

The current document being used charges citizens $1.75 for up to 20 pages of information, with each additional page costing $1.50, and require that citizens agree not to use information to create a “scandal.”

Multiple council members have expressed their intentions of proposing a new document that would make information easier and more affordable access, but Selma City Councilman Carl Bowline is the first to actually draft such a document, which will be presented to the council at its next meeting.

To be sure, there is still a lot of road for Bowline’s document to travel – it has to get a positive report from an attorney, be approved by the council and then executed by the mayor – but it represents a progressive approach to what has been a barrier to citizens and the press alike.

Bowline’s proposal drops the cost of documents down to 50-cents per page, with the option of paying $25 to get a thumb drive stocked with the information requested.

Additionally, the proposal would allow for a $30-per-hour research fee, which would be in place for those requests that take longer to process.

Taken together, Bowline’s proposal represents an attempt to remove barriers to accessing information and, in so doing, a powerful tool for holding elected officials accountable.

Bowline deserves abundant applause for even proposing such a document and the Selma City Council should take it up and approve it as soon as possible – a failure to do so only puts those on the council firmly in the line of people averse to truth, facts and, in a real way, the most basic tenants of democracy, which require that the people be well-informed about the doings of their elected officials.

While it is doubtful that the council won’t approve such a measure – multiple council members have voiced support for changing the current document and even those that haven’t have no legitimate reason to oppose the change – but the real test will come when the document is approved and it becomes the job of those in city hall to ensure that the new rules are followed.

The mayor has shown both that he has no problem ignoring the dictates of the council or holding information close to the vest – for quite some time, council members weren’t even allowed access to city financial documents – so implementation of new guidelines that will provide the public with greater access to the documented-details of day-to-day operations might well be the type of big-ticket item he sees fit to ignore.

For our part, we hope that the new year has brought with it new perspectives and new ideas, the kind that might well see this type of ambitious and forward-thinking change put in place immediately.

Kudos must also go out to Tom Headley, who has likewise blasted the current request for information form and whose sermons before the council in large part led to the drafting of this document, and the council, which directed Bowline to take a look at the current document and see what changes could be made to improve it.

In the interest of transparency and the fostering of an informed electorate, in the interest of honesty and the undermining of suspicions that darkness nurtures, we implore the city to approve this document expeditiously and ensure that it is enacted properly.