[nSLUG] Re: Any nsluggers in Valley?

George White aa056 at chebucto.ns.ca
Sun Aug 28 15:42:33 ADT 2005

Quoting Bob Ashley <ashley at chebucto.ns.ca>:

> Hi Jack. Like George, you open up some really good reasons for proceeding
> with
> caution, thoughtfulness and quiet. All your arguments are persuasive, making
> a
> great deal of sense to me. And it never hurts to double-underscore the
> likelihood that changing an institutional culture may be a greater challenge
> than changing the electronic toolbox. 
> Getting great input like this from Jack, George, and Gerald is really
> important
> because it's that form of citizen participation governments big and small
> could
> use more of. 
> Sincere thanks, 
> Bob Ashley  

This is a good place to relate a case history from my father-in-law, R, who
lives in a small US town.  In the US, schools are funded by property taxes with
some top-up by the state for poor districts.  The town's school budgeting was
chaotic because the state's contribution was erratic from one year to the next.
 R wanted to get the historical records to do some statistical analysis.  By
law, these records are public, but, as is very common, the town contracted out
maintenance of the database.  The contractor would not release the data, only
printed reports, so R had to go to court to get an order forcing the release of
the actual data.  When he got it, he found that it was beign managed using a
commercial database package.  When he opened the file, he found an audit trail
showing that the contractor had been fudging the property valuations to reduce
the taxes being paid by certain individuals.  I think the contractor got jail
time, but in the long run this probably just put organized crime on notice to
encrypt databases and erase audit trails.

Crooks have often been caught because someone started digging into the reasons
for some small discrepancies.  Buggy, ViSTA-infested systems are teaching users
that erratic behaviour is "normal".  Most users can't separate bugs from
People need to demand much better from systems that deal with financial data. 
My experience with the banking system says the major banks have not learned
this: "Don't waste our time complaining about a $10 discrepancy in your

What we need in government is an institutional culture that insists more robust
and reliable systems.  

George N. White III
Head of St. Margarets Bay, Nova Scotia


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