Ken Plum: Keeping Virginia voters informed

kenplum2Virginians can access state government programs and services through a single internet portal,www.virginia.gov that is nationally recognized as one of the best among the states. Fully searchable by need, program, or service with over 90 language options, accessible 24/7 on the web and promoted through social media, the site brings government closer to the people.

Virginia government has not always been so open to citizen inquiry. In my earliest years in the legislature there was no directory of state agencies or services. The state chamber of commerce published a textbook-like description of state government that was helpful in identifying some of the smaller agencies, but then you had to track down an address and phone number. In my legislative office we started to make an index card for every agency or program with contact information as we got to know it. My shoebox of index cards became a valuable and useful resource.

In order to make the information I had collected available to others, I started in 1989 to publish a 24-page Citizens Handbook. It listed the principal agencies of state government with a short description of their responsibilities, address, and phone numbers. The booklet proved popular with citizens and with businesses, organizations, and other levels of government who dealt with state government. Last week I issued a new edition of the handbook that has changed dramatically over the years.

Aside from updating telephone numbers and addresses, subsequent editions that were published about every two years added fax numbers, websites, and email addresses as those services came available. The most recent handbook prior to last week was a listing of state websites. The current issue introduces voters to the Virginia portal, www.virginia.gov. The other very important feature of the current issue is an introduction to constituents of two important websites that can help answer the question, “How is Virginia government doing?” The Commonwealth Data Point site, datapoint.apa.virginia.gov, provides citizens with vast amounts of data from which conclusions can be reached on how the state is doing. A second site,vaperforms.virginia.gov, evaluates the data about Virginia state government, compares it with available indices and metrics and with other states and attempts to evaluate services. Both of these sites have added considerably to government transparency.

Since the website portal provides all the information that was in previous editions of my Handbook, I have used the available space for my Voter Guide that previously was a separate publication. Every year is an election year in Virginia, and this is a big one. Voters can vote for candidates in ten separate elections, and I have included my choices for the districts that overlap mine. There are no surprises in my recommendations including a yes for the bond issues.

Hope you find the Handbook helpful. If you did not receive a copy or would like additional copies, send your request to kenplum@aol.com.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

 
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