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The Currency of Democracy

Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske is being honored for her dedication to making local government open, transparent and accountable.

I am a passionate believer in the words of Thomas Jefferson that “information is the currency of democracy.” That is why I have championed making government information available in a way that helps the public understand how decisions are made and how government operates in my city. To do this I have employed a number of tools that are readily accessible to all elected officials.

When I took office in 2006, I launched a blog on which I post information given to me by city management on issues, so that together, the public and I can discuss options and I can communicate reasons behind my decision making. I expanded my outreach with an email newsletter that reaches over 5,000 and postings on Facebook and Twitter. Documents are uploaded on Scribd so they are readily available to readers. Periodic surveys to solicit public input are often sent before council meetings. Numerous community meetings are held to continue the conversation and engagement. My calendar is also posted at the end of each month so that the public knows what I do when I am not at a council meeting.

This layered approach to communicating has resulted in a constant dialogue between me and my constituents (and constituents of other council districts who are eager for information) and has given them a tool to hold their local government accountable.

With the support of my council colleagues, Long Beach adopted my suggestion to utilize on line participatory budgeting which gave the public an opportunity for the first time to weigh in on what reductions should be made in city services.

However, asking the public to weigh in on which city services should be funded and which should be cut assumes that the public understands how these services operate and how they are delivered. Without giving them that information or the chance to actually see the services in action, we can make it difficult for the public to fully participate.

In January 2012, I took my efforts for public education and transparency one step further with “Open Up Long Beach,” an initiative and website that provide the public increased access to the city’s every day affairs and documents, and includes on site opportunities for residents to go behind the scenes at city operations to see city services in action. My effort won both notice in California Forward’s report: The State of Transparency in California: 2013 and a growing amount of informed and engaged residents.

Using these new communication tools to make government more open brings a new set of legal responsibilities: our texts, tweets and postings should be treated as public records. That is my next battle.

It is such an honor to be considered a Champion of Change for Open Government but it needs to be shared with the thousands of Long Beach residents who have worked with me to make our local government open, transparent and accountable. And for them, I am grateful.

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