You are already hearing promises for “open government” from local political hopefuls running for office this year. It never gets old. Depending on which side the vow comes from, it’s either a claim for continued support for transparency, or describing a scene that is lacking it altogether.
Nonetheless, the concept that calls for political leaders to function before and listen to their constituents through an open and free forum dates back to our Colonial Age. Town Hall meetings date back to the 1700s, when New York was still a colony. An environment for the public to voice their concerns to those who governed them, and a public place in which to hear politicians debate over choice in policy. It is a basic characteristic of democracy.
Technology has created both conveniences and needs that change the landscape from that of the original town hall setting. In 2017, the public expects to see televised meetings. The Town of Colonie has promised to do so, several years after other towns and school districts in our area. At the same time, we must give credit to Colonie for not being the last. With today’s technology and opportunities provided through cable television and internet providers, it’s nearly shameful for board meetings to not, at least, be on Facebook Live.
Politicians need to be accessible. Someone voted into office is a public servant, called upon to represent the community at large. Quite an impossible task to do so behind closed doors. Even the president was as easy to approach as your next door neighbor, once upon a time.
For nearly 200 years, a person was able to step up to the front door of the White House without an appointment. Of course, times have changed. Through a good portion of our country’s history, we could afford to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Two vast oceans separated our communities from that of Europe and Asia, and protected us. That changed on Dec. 7, 1941. After that, we learned isolationism was impossible. The worlds of politics and business became complex, and both networked and intermingled with counterparts throughout the globe.
Technology has created opportunity for growth, both economically and intellectually. Computers boosted office production. The internet did away with the encyclopedia collection. But, there seems to be a disconnect between the federal government and its constituents. Perhaps they should look at how things are done on the town level. Our local politicians understand the need for transparency. They hear the demand from our communities to remain accessible with doors open.