Members of the Salt Lake City Council say they strive for openness in government.
Tuesday evening, they followed through with that philosophy by unanimously endorsing an initiative by University of Utah students who developed "Best Practices" guidelines for transparency in government.
Mayor Ralph Becker also signed off the guidelines aimed at making city and county governments more open and accessible to their constituents by providing all public information online in an easily accessed format.
The students "Think Tank" headed up by Salt Lake City lawyer and U. professor Randy Dryer seeks to make local governments more accountable to residents.
Dryer said he and his class brought the "Best Practices" to Salt Lake City first, because it has been a leader in open government.
"We hope every municipality will at least consider this," Dryer said Tuesday.
One of the students who developed the guidelines, Isabelle Ghabash, said the Think Tank wanted to make a difference in governance.
"It's nice to see the ball get rolling," she said. "It's all about small, concrete steps toward transparency."
(The Salt Lake Tribune was a community partner in the Think Tank class. A managing editor provided editing assistance for the final report. The newspaper also paid for a poll with questions written by the students exploring citizen opinions concerning online access to government information.)
A poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research reveals that 65 percent of Utah voters either strongly or somewhat support tapping tax dollars to make local government records and information more accessible online. That support stretches across party lines.
City Attorney Ed Rutan said Salt Lake City has made open government a priority. He added that the city has made strides on all aspects of the proposed best practices but there remains work to be done.
"Transparency is a continuing process," he said. "There is always more to do."
Five Best Practices for local government transparency
• Establishing a single "open government" Web page that serves as a "searchable, sortable and downloadable" repository for all public government information.
• Collecting, generating and maintaining government information in digital form and making it available on the open-government Web page.
• Considering emails, instant messages and other electronic communications made with government-supplied equipment to be public records.
• Requiring public officials and appointed senior administrators to post advance schedules of public meetings online.
• Making all public meetings truly transparent, through live streaming on the Internet or posting proceedings on the web site within 48 hours of the meeting.