By Derek Monson

In today’s hyper-partisan political climate it has become difficult to find topics that generate universal (or near-universal) agreement, making those issues that everyone does agree on both refreshing and encouraging. One such issue is the need for open, transparent government.

An example of the universal agreement on this issue is the student-led Utah Transparency Project (UTP), which will be launched in a press event Wednesday, April 11 at the University of Utah. The purpose of the UTP is to “to make local governments in Utah more transparent and accessible to citizens” by encouraging them to adopt five transparency “best practices.”

As a conservative advocate for increased transparency in state and local government, Sutherland has signed on as a supporting organization to the UTP. (Full disclosure: One of the UTP’s best practices includes taking steps to put local government information online, as Sutherland has advocated for in the past.) However, others who view politics through a different lens than Sutherland, such as The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker (a guest speaker at the UTP launch event), are also supporters of the UTP.

Easy access to public information is a basic requirement for the protection and maintenance of freedom that has been recognized since the time of the Founding Fathers. As John Adams wrote, “liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right … to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean, of the character and conduct of their rulers.” In an 1822 letter to an associate inKentucky, James Madison put it more succinctly: “[A] popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”

It is interesting to note that these two men who did so much to bring about the American Revolution and the United States Constitution ended up in different political parties when they sprouted shortly after the nation’s founding. In other words, the near-universal appeal of open government is not a new political phenomenon, but has been a basic part of our country’s political culture from the beginning. Hopefully initiatives like the Utah Transparency Project are a sign that such will always be the case.


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