Transparency/Open Government in Port Jervis

Dear Readers,

Port Jervis, believe it or not, because of recent events is closer to being an example of open government in action.

Transparency sounds good in theory, but in action, it’s even better.

Civil society needs transparency in order to be free of corruption and serve the needs of the public, and there’s more than one public, more than one audience. We’re all individuals, and in 2018, we all can have a say.

Communication is key and diplomacy is key to peace.

To accompany my August 20 article, “How to Have a Say in PJ,” the following is my selected notes from the Brookings Institution’s aggregation of research, “The Impact of Open Government.”

Hope that you find this as educational as I did, and, with any luck, more useful.

Peace,
Brienna Parsons

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Identifying the principals is, in general, easier when the open government initiative is intended to make conditions more visible, rather than processes more transparent. ‘Visible condition’ interventions reveal the outcomes of government action, and the major principals tend to be comparatively obvious. The release of school test results might be primarily directed at parents. An interactive website for reporting local potholes is intended for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians. The principals are less obvious when it comes to transparent processes, which reveal not the outcomes of policy but the mechanisms by which government decisions are made. Who will attend the newly public town council meetings? Who will submit a Freedom of Information request and pursue legal remedies if it is denied?

In Vietnam, increasing the visibility of legislators’ behavior did not embolden them to more forthrightly represent their constituents’ interests. Instead, transparency discouraged these legislators from activities that give the appearance of opposing the regime. In a host of contexts, transparent processes can lead to more domination by entrenched interests.

This is not to suggest that increasing the transparency of government processes always empowers those with a stake in the status quo. But an examination of the literature on public meetings reveals some of the challenges in turning transparent processes into broad-based participation. In numerous contexts, carefully constructed public meeting initiatives have not only provided civic space for the disadbantaged, but have even disproportionately represented the poor — an achievement that can help offset inequalities of representation in other venues. Decisions as simple as the timing and location of meetings can include or exclude the disenfranchised.

When efforts are made to ensure that poor people people have access to transparency processes, there is clear evidence that these open government initiatives can be used to improve their access to public goods.

Another challenge in turning transparency into broad participation is a tendency to self-selection among those who participate, even among social and economic equals. It is not just the powerful, but the interested, who tend to participate in politics.

Tramsparent processes need not be just another access point for the already powerful or the highly motivated. But open government proponents must design transparent procedures that take into account who is likely to be in a position to respond to the information made available by transparency, and to offset the existing inequalities of power and engagement. The following items on the rubric will help ensure that open government information reaches its intended principals, and that those principals are in a position to absorb and respond to the information.

For data to be useful, it needs to be accessible and publicized. Nominally transparent data can often be incomprehensible. To pick one extreme example: while information about farm subsidies in the United States was technically available to the public, it took six years of effort by a public interest watchdog group to actually process the data into a useable form. In addition, accessible data requires publicity, usually via an active and independent media.

Accessibility alone is not enough; information must be publicized for people to respond to it.A consistent finding across many studies is the value of an active and free press in reducing misuse of government funds and holding elected officials to account.

Open government proponents must ensure tat their interventions actually reach their intended audience. Accessibility concerns confront both top-down and bottom-up approaches to open government. Open data projects should be adaptable for use not only by individuals but by media, academics, and civil society organizations. They should also be amenable to aggregation to the level of official accountability. Those considering direct monitoring as an approach to transparency should ensure that the information in question is truly accessible to the monitors. In addition, there is a critical role for a free and active press in reporting open government information.

Open government initiatives have often been designed based on the assumption that information alone would move people to action.

The key in each of [the cases mentioned in the document was] that resipients of the open government information could respond meaningfully to the information they were given because they had real alternatives to choose between, and a societal space in which they were free to make those choices.

In other cases, however, individual-level solutions may not be enough. In that event, open government programs need the support of either local service providers or officials to be effective.Thus the long-term effectiveness of an open government intervention often hangs on the relationship between the citizen principals and their government agents.

A comparison of two efforts to reduce absenteeism among civil servants in India demonstrates the importance of supportive officials to the success of open government initiatives.

Transparency can sometimes distort agents’ incentives, encouraging them to put on a good show rather than actually improve performance. Transparency can also interact with representatives’ tendency to ‘blame avoidance,’ and result in unintended and negative consequences. These perverse effects can come in at least three forms.

  • ATTENTION TO PROCESSES OVER OUTCOMES
  • DISPLACEMENT
  • STRATEGIC “IMPROVEMENT”

The research … shows the importance of principals having the power to act on the information made available by open government, whether individually or with the help of supportive agents.

It is a truism of democracy that the willingness of officials to support reform is not indepemdemt of the mobilization of informed citizens. Represemtatives respond not only to active political campaigns, but also attempt to anticipate the threat of potential activism. And yet, even where there are robust mechanisms of democracy, one letter of complaint is unlikely to change bureaucratic policy. A single voter has little chance of altering the outcome of even the fairest election. And, of course, in far too many less free political contexts, an individual seeking information about or expressing discontent with government faces not merely apathy but harassment, intimidation, and even violence. For citizens to shape the preferences of their representatives, they often have to work together. Here, of course, individuals encounter the problem of collective action: it is only worth participating if enough others do for the project to succeed. The collective action problem can be overcome, but only under certain conditions:

  • CONDITION 1: POLITICAL AGENCY. An individual needs to believe that he or she can and should participate in the political sphere.
  • CONDITION 2: QUORUM. An individual needs to have confidence that enough others will also participate tp have an impact. This assurance is particularly important when participants face a risk of punishment.
  • CONDITION 3: GROUP EFFICACY. An individual must believe that if the group acts, meaningful change will occur.

Several research teams have tested one approach to increasing citizens’ sense of agency: simply informing citizens of their nominal points of authority over local public service providers. A number of these campaigns have shown some success in increasing engagement and improving public services.

Simple as it sounds, being told of one’s rights and one’s points of authority can increase the extent to which people exert their power.

The quorum and group efficacy conditions are central to collective action analyses, but have rarely been rigorously assessed in the context of transparency/accountability initiatives. Collective action research suggests that trust between individuals, and therefore existing institutions that build and maintain that trust, play a crucial role in overcoming the collective action problem. There is also evidence that adopting all-or-nothing tactics, such as boycotts or nonviolent resistance, in which a single free-rider is understood to substantially damage or undermine the likelihood of success, can be effective in discouraging defection.

One context that often meets all three of these conditions is a competitive election, and there is a substantial body of research on the interaction between open government and elections. In a number of instances, voter guides based on open government data have educated and engaged voters and changed electoral outcomes.

A voter guide in Mozambique, combined with an SMS campaign, was also shown to increase turnout.

Interestingly, competitive elections can also have an impact on the behavior of unelected public servants.

Open government interventions that have been successful in other contexts have failed when powerful interests have successfully hijacked the processes by which open government information reaches the public or by which citizens can seek answers from their representatives.

When a representative sample of Ugandan voters were given the opportunity to text message their representatives, a ‘greater share of marginalized populations’ participated in this campaign than more traditional forms of politicial communication — even when the cost of sending a text message was not subsidized.

Participatory budgeting has been shown to engage the poor and other often disenfranchised groups, and improve service delivery.

In sum, there is clear evidence that open government initiatives thrive when recipients of new information about government have access to channels of influence, such as competitive elections and robust grassroots organizations.

Where these avenues do not yet exist, there is some suggestive evidence that channels of influence can be built within an open government framework.

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Audit Right There!: Debriefing of the Small Town Journalist

You’ll notice that this isn’t marked under news but blog. I almost didn’t write this article at all. In fact, today was almost my last day in the career track of journalism.

After this post, I’m switching focuses. I’ll still attend meetings and write about anything that intrigues me, correct the record and all that, but I’m staying away from the city that I grew up in.

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It’s two-faced.

Janus will say that he hates the local political games, hate-bating and pandering and that he wants to change things. As soon as you walk away however, the Port Jervis god will only spit profanities and vitriol on your journey home.

Liars. Or are they? Where exactly is the truth in what people say? There has to be some somewhere.

That’s one thing I may stay in town for though it doesn’t come close to the higher purpose of rending the newsworthy facts that citizens need in order to live, learn and grow.

It may be interesting to know how much of a statement is true or honest when people say marvelous things. I’d rather learn how we can all create a common ground, but that doesn’t seem to be the place people like me. I’ll just keep smiling silently then.

It’s not easy being the one to tell others that more communication is necessary, because if they don’t communicate already, they don’t believe that they need to. Omitting the truth is just as much a lie, no?

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Here’s the story:

I was hot on the trail of a risk assessment — a “pre-audit” — in the city, performed by State Comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli’s office.

The glance at documentation tediously gathered by the city clerk’s office is a determining moment before deciding whether there were next steps for the city to take or even a full state audit to be conducted.

The state risk assessment began Jan. 23.

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Mayor Kelly Decker replied this morning that there was no such necessitation according to what the state had concluded that day.

However, that doesn’t end the journey of auditing.

The city performs its own annual internal audit as well. This is when the firm Bonaddio comes in and does a thorough search through the city’s documentation. This organization has been used for years according to City Clerk Robin Waizenegger.

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“…closer to 4%.”

Kristin Trovei

Even with the consistent auditing the city’s fund balance has fallen in the past decade to more than “unhealthy” lows.

In an article in the Times Herald-Record, responding to the village of Walden’s status, Brian Burry, spokesman for the state comptroller’s office, stated that having a fund balance of ten percent of total municipal expenses was a “healthy” goal.

Waizenegger sallied that fifteen percent, or just under a sixth of the city’s expenses, was a more appropriately called “healthy” fund balance.

That’s the process that the city goes through every year. To be clear, that’s enough for me. If there was to be more done, that would have been fine too.

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This brings us back to my rant at the beginning.

Most people use Facebook these days. According to Pew Research Center, only eleven percent of people in the U.S. don’t use social media. Of the other eighty-nine percent that do, more than half use Facebook, and more than half of that half, use it everyday, multiple times a day, to read, take in news, and catch up with friends and family.

For that reason, I’ve been taking my calls for sources and comments from Twitter to Facebook.

Most recently I called attention to feelings about budgeting, finance, spending and city revenues following this pre-audit.

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“…negative posts…”

It got the usual respondents, those that may have something negative to say. Those that still don’t feel that their representative government is taking the right actions in allaying these worries. Yet, there are also those that are more optimistic.

My question was plain, and any more middle of the rode it would have been flying high up next to the pie-in-the-sky.

The difficulty in remaining, and being seen as impartial, was turned on blast when politics stepped in on the post: a blanket shaming that served to discredit the question and any comments anyone had in the thread.

Even though replies were asked to be made as a “DM” or direct message to me, rather than comments.

The most heartbreaking part was the source of the political reaction. Someone that I had interviewed several times and was starting to feel friendly towards.

Perhaps there’s something to be learned in the old saying, “keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.”

House Sexual Harassment Bill Falls Short of Transparency

(CNN)In the wake of a string of scandals, House Republicans and Democrats unveiled legislation to overhaul the process of investigating sexual harassment claims on Capitol Hill, but their bill weakens the authority of the independent entity currently probing lawmakers’ behavior, according to outside ethics watchdogs. The bill could also make it harder for the public […]

via House sexual harassment bill promises transparency but cuts out ethics watchdog: — redlegagenda

Growing Community: Lindner’s Vision for Fourth Ward Vacant Lot

PORT JERVIS, N.Y. — Monday evening, former 2017 Fourth Ward candidate and activist Jill Lindner delivered her results to the Common Council and the public regarding a petition that she had started earlier this month.

The petition, signed by 52 people, began after news broke that the firehouse property at 15 Seward Ave. was expected to be sold by the city to the Salvation Army next door as had been done with 17 Seward Ave. not long before.

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Lindner, with her concept, hopes to not only beautify the neighborhood but inspire, educate and enrich the lives of her neighbors in the Fourth Ward.

That’s the simple reason.

There is a more pervasive problem of the property pertinent to those who pay taxes in the City of Port Jervis.

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In 2011, the city sold the property for $57,500, turning an immediate profit on the property of 17 Seward Ave. after having spent $35,500 to clear the property. Therein lies the problem however: the city, therefore the taxpayers, foot the bill to see their taxes raised ever more slightly by the rescinding of the property from the tax rolls.


“Gardens = Quality of life, making property worth more.”

Jill Lindner

So when in 2017 the city spent $101,752 to demolish the old firehouse at 15 Seward Ave. and test for asbestos, concerned neighbors spoke up and Lindner listened.

If it was to be of detriment to the situation of taxpayers, Lindner saw no reason why it couldn’t be, more positively, a tax-free project that served the community directly. Owned by the Ward for the next hundred years.

For the neighborhood, by the neighborhood.

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When the idea was first raised by Lindner to a closed meeting with Mayor Kelly Decker, there was supposed to be two Fourth Ward representatives present to hear the notion. Yet, only Lisa Randazzo was present

According to Lindner, when she asked Stanley Siegel why he was a no-show, the councilman with a dozen years under his belt responded that he had not been called.

Though the shortcoming in communication, Lindner later says that not only did she get support at the meeting, but she was introduced to ways and means of financial support for the project.

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Although Lindner has found volunteers “already rolling up their sleeves,” there has been “negative spin” from those with a voice that’s well-heard.

For instance, at the first Common Council meeting of the new year, in response to her open letter calling for public support, Siegel had the following to say:


“Not sure that site would be in the best interest of anybody.”

Stanley Siegel

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Jill Lindner, as an environmental activist and artist, wishes to create and inspire a healthier, greener planet. Believing in “starting where you are” she ran for councilwoman to the Fourth Ward in 2017 after years of demonstrating and getting closer to the Earth. Now, beginning with this garden project, she is finding new ways of doing whatever she can to make a positive impact on the world around her.

That’s why it wouldn’t be a surprise to any that have spoken to her if she saw this project through to completion and set a precedent for creating positive, organic change.

Jill

Former Cuomo Aide Indicted for CPV Bribery

NEW YORK — Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. a court proceeding began that has many Orange County residents and some from Sullivan Co. protesting, as well as citizens across the state concerned.

A former aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Joseph Percoco, is finally seeing trial over a year after a subpoena calling for his indictment on the charges of accepting bribes for official favors.

Organizations such as Food and Water Watch – New York, Concerned Citizens for the Hudson Valley, and Protect Orange County organized to further call attention to these charges, the corruption of Albany and the Competitive Power Ventures (CPV) plant transporting fracked gas into the Hudson Valley.

The bribes, from 2012 to 2014, as well as in 2015, recurringly came bank accounts set up by a shell company of Todd Howe, a lobbyist who first met Percoco and Cuomo while he was working Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo. Howe is now cooperating with prosecutors after having pleaded guilty to multiple felonies of a similar nature in September 2016.

Activists in the region are pointing to a particular instance when CPV paid over $287,000 to Percoco. Former CPV executive, Peter Galbraith Kelly Jr. was charged with arranging the payments. Now, Protect Orange County, wants to see the CPV fracked gas-fired plant removed from the Hudson Valley, and they aren’t alone.

The trial is expected to be ongoing for the next four to six weeks. Syracuse developers, COR Development executives Steven Aiello and Joseph Gerardi, were also charged in the Percoco trial, as well as another, for their arrangement of nearly $35,000 in payments to help with economic development.

Susan Lerner, Common Cause Executive Director, believes that the evidence in the trial will “be eye-opening for the public” in terms of the “pay-to-play aspects” of government economic decision-making.

The trial is being held at the Thurgood Marshall United States Courthouse in Foley Square in New York City. Many have already gathered in protest. Footage from Protect Orange County’s Facebook Live feed is below.

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The Buffalo News reporter Tom Precious said Saturday that the “Percoco corruption trial is as much about Cuomo as it is the defendants.” In the article, Executive Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), Blair Horner, agrees with Lerner that prosecutors are “going to illustrate Albany’s pay-to-play culture, and it’s not going to be pretty for New Yorkers to see.”

Assemblyman Ray Walter, an Amherst Republican, takes it a step further.

“I think we’re going to see the inner workings of the Cuomo administration and how the economic development model he’s developed as governor leads to this type of corruption,” he said.

Tom Precious, The Buffalo News. Jan. 20, 2018

Chair of Protect Orange County, Pramilla Malick, has not yet responded to calls for comment. To be Updated as the trial continues.

Rice One!: Doing Good in 2018

Was your 2018 New Year’s Resolution to get smarter? Give more? Well, if you don’t feel like reading or searching for the charity for you, here’s one possible solution: FreeRice.

It’s an oldie but a goodie.

Created back in 2007, the game has donated trillions of grains of rice, from the United Nations World Food Program, and millions of users have helped accomplish this. The “100% non-profit website” accomplishes two goals: 1) it provides free education; and, 2) it strives to end world hunger one free grain of rice at a time.

I used to play it in the computer lab instead of solitaire, galaxy pinball, Runescape or Kongregate like the other kids. With several game types to choose from on FreeRice, my favorite right now is “famous paintings.” Thanks, Google Arts & Culture.

During the Aughts, there were a lot of sites that did similar things for idle, maybe even educational, gaming, to support such causes as feeding dogs, giving flour or beans.

From websites to apps, some things have changed. The top hits from the list are the following two, for donating for activity, rather than per dollar. Donate a Photo, supported by Johnson & Johnson only asks a photo! Charity Miles may make you walk a bit, but hey, cardio that gives to charity at no cost? Nice!

What I like about this

Apps that do good things are great. Altruism doesn’t need to be an uncomfortable adventure with the Peace Corps or Habitats for Humanity anymore! Now you can be your own type of superhero right from the comfort of home! Or at the gym!

That’s all pretty wonderful, but the ease of altruistic behavior and doing good isn’t entirely what keeps me excited about things like this. It’s where things like this will develop. What’s the diachronic outlook here?

Look at 2007 to 2017! Our charitable giving can start from a larger screen, playing games, answering questions and ultimately donating grains of rice at a time, to taking a selfie or a landscape photo and donating money to a variety of causes. Things look to be opening up in the direction of doing good.

People want to not only simplify their budgeting but do good with their wealth too. Even if only with spare change, they want to save easier, retire securer, and invest in their futures. I’d love nothing more than to delve into how the world around millennials is changing personal finance, but that’s for another article.

Here, I would like to conclude on an idea that I brought up in talking about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It came up in that post and may make a milestone moment this year: Universal Basic Income. It’s a topic that, like finance apps, will need to be further expounded elsewhere, because the concept of free money, as Finland has proven, is better than it sounds.

A Universal Basic Income sounds awesome already, but it could get even better if it were integrated with the taxing system. Not stopping there though! Transparency is a must for personal finance and all parts of civil society.

The Universal Income (UI) and taxing software would need its own platform, like an app. The UI would need a fairly simple user interface, or (also) UI. In some of our minds, we may even imagine being able to move our money, plan, save, budget, and even decide how much of it is taxed and where it goes.

That would be the kind of future where getting involved and interactive means not only making money but budgeting and saving money and learning more about civics and taxes.

There’s another upside to it also: Say you don’t want to support war. Well, you can open up your UI app and would be able to set your taxes so none of your money went towards the military budget, and instead goes to the education budget or the highway budget. That would be the day, right?

We could use more organizations like OneTreePlanted too.

FISA: Surveillance Program Extended

#AceNewsReport – Jan.11: Editor says as this was due to happen Congress Is About To Vote On Expanding the Warrantless Surveillance of Americans: This was reported on Wednesday: Group of bipartisan lawmakers says blanket collection of the communications by Americans is unconstitutional. @RonWyden @RandPaul @RepZoeLofgren among lawmakers who want reforms to FISA 702 before voting […]

via (WASHINGTON) #FISA Latest: Congress Vote Expanding Warrantless Surveillance of Americans Data: Bipartisan lawmakers says blanket collection of the communications is unconstitutional. @RonWyden @RandPaul @RepZoeLofgren among lawmakers who want reforms to FISA 702 before voting to reauthorize it #AceNewsDesk reports — Ace News Services