The Dane County Board is a powerful legislative body that shapes the policies and programs of the second largest county in the state of Wisconsin. It is a place where big issues are being addressed, and where big ideas can and should be proposed and explored.
This year, every one of the 37 seats on the board will be filled in the April 3 election. It is unfortunate that most of the races are uncontested. But it is encouraging that, in several of the contested races, newcomers have entered the fray and are proposing to make the board more efficient and effective.
During this election season, The Cap Times will highlight the best ideas being raised by candidates running in districts across the county. The paper won’t make endorsements until March, after primaries have identified the contenders for the seats that will be filled by the voters in April. But over the coming weeks, we’ll focus on some of the ideas that are being brought to the fore by various candidates.
We begin today with the open government agenda of Yogesh Chawla, who seeks to fill the District 6 seat on the near east side of Madison. Longtime Supervisor John Hendrick is stepping down after serving since 1994 as the progressive conscience (and frequent leader) of the board.
One of four impressive candidates for the open seat — all of whom merit serious consideration as voters prepare to winnow the field in the Feb. 20 primary — Chawla has distinguished himself by outlining an agenda for making the board’s deliberations more accessible.
“Most county government work is done in committees, not on the County Board floor,” noted Chawla. “These committee meetings are not recorded and available to the general public, which reduces the ability of our residents to participate and leaves a gap in accountability for these public bodies. Modern streaming technology allows sharing video at the click of a button. We must demand more from Dane County.”
Chawla promises to “lead the charge to ensure committee meetings are recorded and publicly available to allow citizens to fully participate in their own government.”
That’s not the only way in which Chawla wants to open up local government. As a public safety software developer who has worked on open source software for the public sector, he explained, “I will work with county government to reduce burdensome software costs while pursuing open source solutions. I will also work to make all government data available in a simple, accessible and standard format for download, as well as via application programming interfaces (APIs).”
Chawla’s agenda is a smart one. He’s talking about using new technology, and his own experience, to make it easier for citizens to engage with county government. We hope that other contenders for the board will embrace his proposals and come up with more of their own.
We would love to see a competition this spring not just of candidates but of ideas for making the governing body that is closest to the people of Dane County even more in touch with citizens and communities.
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