In the realm of governance, transparency and openness are not mere buzzwords but foundational pillars that uphold the edifice of democracy. In their compelling discourse, Greg Brooks and Patrick Tuohey from Better Cities Project argue that open government is inherently a cultural phenomenon rather than a transactional obligation. This perspective resonates deeply with the ethos of the Southwest Public Policy Institute and amplifies our call for a systemic shift in how government entities perceive and implement transparency measures.

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The City of Albuquerque’s struggle with the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) lawsuits, as meticulously reported by Bethany Raja, serves as a case in point, illustrating the pervasive anti-transparency culture that can cripple the noble aspirations of open governance. Over just eighteen months, the city doled out more than $1.4 million in settlements for 27 lawsuits related to IPRA violations. This startling figure is not just a testament to the financial burdens of non-compliance but also an indicator of a deeper malaise within the city’s administrative ethos.

City Clerk Ethan Watson’s acknowledgment of the city’s failure to meet IPRA request deadlines and the subsequent legal repercussions is a candid admission of the systemic issues plaguing Albuquerque’s approach to transparency. While Watson’s efforts to address these challenges — including the digitization of records and attempts to streamline the request process — are commendable, they seem to be mere band-aids over a festering wound. As highlighted in the Brooks and Tuohey article and Raja’s report, the real problem lies in the cultural disposition towards transparency within government institutions.

The notion that less than 1% of requesters file IPRA-related lawsuits should not be a comforting statistic but a red flag. It underscores the hurdles citizens face in accessing public records and the potential chilling effect on individuals who might otherwise seek to hold their government accountable. The chronic violation of IPRA, particularly in cases involving contentious or controversial subjects, reveals a pattern of resistance to transparency that no procedural tweaks can remedy.

Albuquerque and any government entity must undergo a cultural transformation to embody the principles of open government truly. This transformation begins with recognizing transparency as a fundamental value of public affairs. It involves cultivating an environment where public officials and employees are not just obligated but genuinely committed to ensuring the public’s access to information.

The challenges the City of Albuquerque faces serve as a microcosm of the broader issues confronting open governance in the United States. We must double down on the cultural aspects of transparency, fostering an ethos that embraces scrutiny, welcomes public participation, and celebrates openness as a cornerstone of democracy. Only through such a cultural shift can we achieve a truly transparent and open government where the flow of information is not hindered by bureaucratic inertia but is facilitated as a matter of principle and practice.

As advocates for public policy reform and champions of open governance, we must continue to push for this cultural revolution. The path to transparency is fraught with challenges. Still, the benefits of an informed and engaged citizenry, accountable governance, and the bolstering of public trust are significant rewards.

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