Note: The Joint Committee’s Summary of this testimony was published in its annual report for 2016.
J.H. Snider’s presentation before the Maryland General Assembly’s
Joint Committee on Legislative Information Technology and Open Government,
Amoss Hearing Room, Miller Senate Building, Annapolis, MD,
November 2, 2016
Since this Joint Committee was created, I have testified before it more than any other Maryland citizen, so I believe I need no introduction. I’d like to call your attention to the fact that this is a joint committee on open government, yet I did not receive an email notification of this meeting until I asked for one yesterday. This might also help explain why I am the only member of the public testifying today.
For more than fifteen years I have argued that every public body like this one should have an email signup for notifications of public meetings like this one. Indeed, I do not know of a single general purpose Washington, DC think tank that, for at least a decade, has not allowed customized email signup for events relating to specific topics such as education or media public policy. And many local governments now also provide such email signup for meeting notifications. But, as is evident from the lack of email notice for this meeting, this open government body persists in rejecting that type of bare bones open government. I would encourage you to rethink your opposition.
Now I’d like to turn to the presentations you heard today. It is my understanding that the Director of the Office of Information Systems will only release legislators’ roll call votes in machine-readable form over his dead body, despite the fact that, as I’ve mentioned several times before this body, the Speaker of the House has on two occasions publicly said that he wants the public to have easy access to how he votes and planned to inform this committee of that fact. Alas, several years ago I was told that he never actually communicated that view to either this committee or the Director of the Office of Information Systems. No matter, this committee’s years of inaction on that matter confirms that it is opposed to providing the public with easily accessible information about how its representatives have voted. I hope you will rethink that opposition, as public access to machine readable roll call votes has become an absolutely essential type of democratic (small-d) accountability information for any legislature.
Now turning to the presentations from the Office of the Public Access Ombudsman, the Public Information Act Compliance Board, and the Open Meeting Compliance Board. There was no one invited today to suggest that these offices were anything but champions of the public’s right-to-know. From my perspective–and I know that many disagree with this statement–these offices were designed, perhaps inadvertently, to do more harm than good when it comes to the information requests of average citizens as opposed to those who own a printing press or will credibly sue if they don’t get what they want. If you believe there might be even a grain of truth to what I am saying, I hope you will solicit the views of average citizens who have endured the agony of seeking politically controversial information from their local public officials.
Last year on September 8, 2015 I testified before this committee about the dismal email practices of local Maryland government officials that, by comparison, make Hillary Clinton’s email practices come off as a model of open government. Accompanying that testimony was my Baltimore Sun op-ed on that topic. This committee did not ask me a single question about that problem then and subsequently did nothing about it during the past fourteen months. Now I’m submitting to this committee another op-ed on that subject that was published in the Huffington Post two days ago. My question to you is: do you want to continue to bury that problem under the rug, or do you want to do something about it? By this time next year, I guess I’ll know the answer.