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Leesburg Eyes Increased Government Transparency Through Technology

© Leesburg Today - 07/30/2015

Members of Leesburg's Technology and Communications Commission on Monday night presented to Town Council an idea to create an information archiving system that would allow the public to find document they could currently acquire through a formal government request.

The commission is proposing to make available, in searchable and downloadable form, all of town information and databases that are not required to be kept confidential by Virginia public records law in hopes that it would make the town a more desirable place for businesses and educational institutions.

""Many citizens found that once this information is available, the whole staff uses it as well and it's much easier to access and it's more efficient,"" Commission Chairman John Binkley said. ""It's useful for businesses trying to use analytics and saves time for staff.""

Morgan Wright, owner of a tech company called SafeLife, supported the commission's recommendations, saying the more transparency there was within government the more economic development there would be.

""Information is power and it's a powerful economic engine,"" Wright said.

Wright said there would be an increase in Internet traffic, especially during budget seasons, through the OpenGov-based system. He said instead of the town using resources to create graphs to interpret information, like the current town's financial system uses, businesses could find the raw data and interpret it however they pleas""So companies would be doing analysis on their own dime and not ours, and that's where savings comes in,"" Councilman Marty Martinez said.

Council members Katie Sheldon Hammler, who is the council liaison to the commission, and Tom Dunn expressed full support of the project, and Suzanne Fox said more transparency is ""always a good thing."" Hammler and Dunn were ready move forward with the commission's recommendation and start gathering data that would be used.

""I would not be ashamed if no one else was doing this and we could be the first,"" Dunn said. ""Leesburg should not be feeling shy about being in the forefront on this.""

Some members wanted to know whether other Virginia municipalities were using the same system, but no specific examples were given. Technology commission members said they would come back with more information.

Mayor Kristen Umstattd was concerned with additional costs and staff time that would be required to gather the data and redact information that won't be made available to the public.

Binkley said the system would be cheap because there would be no website to build or need to make the information ""pretty.""

""Companies would just be working with data files,"" he said.

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