AZTEC — One thing is clear — city officials want citizens to see how local government operates.
Last month, the city of Aztec added a new page to its website in the effort to make public city records more accessible.
The new page features links to request public records, access the city's annual budgets, look at gross receipts collections per year, examine bids and contracts, read the city's 10-year fiscal analysis and summary, and other information.
"(Aztec Finance Director Kathy Lamb) and I looked at other websites. We looked at Farmington's, Santa Fe's and Albuquerque's We primarily used those three as a foundation for our website," said Projects Manager Ed Kotyk. Kotyk builds and updates many of the city's webpages.
"Most the information we already had, just not centrally located on one page. We made one page where the information is all listed," he said.
City Manager Josh Ray cited President Barack Obama's pledge to offer a transparent government as a basis for Aztec to do the same.
"It's a trend. We don't want to just give lip service to transparency, but make it a reality," Ray said. "Local government is a different mentality for us — everything is out there for us, anything to do with our daily decisions, budget documents, public records requests. We thought, if we're going to have a tech-savvy community, let's make a page dedicated to transparency. It comes from what we've been hearing from all levels of government for the last 7 or 8 years."
Ray hopes citizens will give feedback so the page can meet their needs.
"If people ask for something, we'll add it to the page," Ray said. "I like to have the information easily accessible. Oftentimes, I'll ask someone, if we're on the phone, 'Any chance you're by a computer?' and we can pull it up quickly and look at it together. Every citizen should be equally empowered as our commission. That's the hope."
The city received 57 public records requests last year versus 86 the year before, according to Aztec City Clerk Karla Sayler. Most of the records were picked up at City Hall or sent in by fax.
Aztec's efforts are part of a national trend to increase government transparency.
"I think it's an increasing trend nationally, especially with cities, states, taking ownership and putting up data, data pages, facilitate that. An open government page, we've seen some of the more innovative efforts being done at the state, city level, in terms of engagement and transparency." said Sean Moulton, a Freedom of Information Act expert with the Center for Effective Government, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.
"For every city you have doing something, there's probably 20 or more cities that aren't. Resources are a factor, but also expertise is a part of it too," he noted.
But whether people will use resources like Aztec's transparency page is still unknown.
"By and large, people look for information nowadays online first," Moulton said. "We still have a digital divide of people who don't have access versus those who do. Whether or not they're engaging their local governments that way is hard to quantify. It shouldn't be transparency for transparency's sake. It should be information most needed."
The city's push for greater transparency and accessibility will be expanded by end of the year with increased free Wi-Fi access. The installation of 32 new wireless repeaters will be added to locations currently without coverage around the city to help residents and visitors access needed information, Ray said.
"We'd like to have our 6,763 citizens all empowered to know what we're doing and why we're doing it. I'm hoping that by the end of the calendar year you're going to be able to see wireless access everywhere within the city," Ray said. "Our main goal is to help people not have to go through a process to get information. It's an access issue."
The city's transparency page can be seen at http://www.aztecnm.gov/transparency.htm.
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.