Thumbs Up/Down for Monday, April 14, 2014

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Monday, April 14, 2014

Thumbs up to improvements to OpenBook Wisconsin. The website, openbook.wi.gov, which tracks how the state spends taxpayer dollars, helped Wisconsin take a dramatic leap forward in government transparency. The Badger State got a grade of F last year but earned an A-minus in a new analysis by state and national arms of the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. That's the largest improvement nationwide. Gov. Walker's administration launched—after a year-long delay—the website that lets users search for spending based on vendor, type of expense and the agency buying a service, regardless of cost. “It's important that state government is transparent about how it does business,” Department of Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch said in a news release. “We're proud of the work we've done to provide a level of financial openness that has never been done in Wisconsin's history.” More transparency will help assure taxpayers their money isn't going to waste and fraud.

Thumbs up to a court ruling demanding access to emails. Another nugget of transparent government news came Wednesday. An appeals court ruled Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, must disclose names and email addresses of people who contacted him in 2011 regarding limits on public employee unions. The unanimous ruling reversed a Grant County judge's decision that Erpenbach could black out the information. The conservative MacIver Institute sought the emails to learn whether government employees used work computers and time to engage in politics. The appeals court stated “…awareness of who is attempting to influence public policy is of significant interest to the public.” As MacIver President Brett Healy stated, the ruling shows lawmakers can't carve exemptions to the state's open records law to hide public information while working for taxpayers.

Thumbs down to carelessness with “controlled burns.” We say it every spring, but it bears repeating. Why do so many people take risks with so-called “controlled burns”? Too often, people lack common sense. They start fires when windy conditions might be in the forecast, or they ignite grass to burn off when conditions are dry. You risk being billed for services if firefighters must respond. If—heaven forbid—your fire burns a neighboring home or some other building, you might be legally responsible for that, too. If you still insist on burning, call your local fire department to get permission and notify authorities of your plans. In Rock County, call the communications center at 608-757-2244. The center's staff can let you know whom to contact for permission.

Thumbs up to St. Paul's Lutheran School readers. Kids in Ruth Ann Schultz's first-grade class at the Janesville parochial school are enthusiastic and voracious readers. That was evident given Schultz's students placed in the top five a year ago in a national reading program for Lutheran schools. This year, Schultz's first-graders did even better, finishing second. It's not just that the children are reading hundreds of books—they also take computer quizzes to assure they comprehend the words. All kids in grades 1-8 at St. Paul's participate in the program, which offers incentives. For example, a student can earn lunch with the principal. If reading ability is the foundation of all learning, these kids are well on their way to academic achievements.

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