Category Archives: Transparency

Have a Seat at the Table

Chair, Agricultural Museum, Texas State Capitol I can’t physically get you a seat at the table as policy is formed, but I can do the next best thing. New this session of the Texas Legislature, adding value through the Texas A&M Transportation Institute by applying transparency practices to transportation policy. This effort includes:

  1. Providing daily updates for a list of transportation bills filed, sorted by category, at
  2. Tweeting a list of the day’s new transportation bills via @StevenPolunsky
  3. Blogging to provide background, analysis, and behind the scenes insight at
  4. Liveblogging legislative hearings at
  5. Packaging all or some of the above along with featured research in a newsletter (subscribe at
  6. Responding to questions posted through the above and other social media channels
  7. Preparing live seminars for Legislators, staff, and the public on timely issues.
  8. Maintaining our interim legislative activity tracker at
  9. Keeping our list of what passed and what didn’t from prior sessions at
  10. Seeking other opportunities to augment transparency in the legislative process.

Tulsa Parking parody accountIn a nutshell, that’s public service’s Twitter problem. Parody accounts are easy to make and hard to counter. To the credit of the maker of the parody account @Tulsa_Parking, the account is clearly labeled as a satire.  Also, the City of Tulsa picked a response approach that is a little heavy handed and legally questionable, as the seal has been altered by the addition of the poop emoji, among other things. Tulsa Parking is so proud of the response that they pinned it to the top of their account.

The parody twitter account links to a website that carries this warning:

“This is a satire site protected by the 1st Amendment.

We are in no way affiliated with the bloodsucking parasites that are employed by the City of Tulsa

Suck it, nerds.”

The website notes Tulsa Parking’s nomination by The Tulsa Voice for “Best Tulsan to Follow on Social Media,” links to an event announcement on Facebook, and then contains the text of Machiavelli’s The Prince.

Laws on parody accounts generally are evolving and focus on consequences such as actual harm being caused.  A British attempt to close a government parody account was briefly successful but then reversed. India appears to have succeeded in their attempt. Trying to close such accounts in the US raises obvious First Amendment issues. Further, Twitter is littered with government parody accounts and has formal policies on how to create and respond to parody accounts.

Lighten up, City of Tulsa. The account’s popularity is a hint that you can’t intimidate the author, and you also have zero chance of successful prosecution.  Look inward and ask yourself why it has struck a chord — is the attack merited? Twitter is a mechanism for changing government policies, even when politeness is not observed. Otherwise, learn from the experience of others of dealing with trolls. Turn it into an engagement opportunity. See it as a teachable moment.

Of course, if it was an emergency situation and lives were at stake, the advice would be different. But parking? Really.

Texas Tribune article

“You need to think through all the way to the end,” Polunsky cautions, “so that people feel not just that they had their say, but that they were listened to.”

Ross Ramsey interviews me for a Texas Tribune article about public testimony over the Internet.

Analysis: More Voices, and Perhaps, More Headaches


Freedom of Speech at Airports

The Transportation Research Board has released Legal Research Digest 26: Regulations Affecting the Exercise of First Amendment Activities at Airports. This report provides an overview of the different First Amendment activities that occur at airports, the issues that generally affect them, and the legal challenges to airport policies, while laying out the history of case law.

First Amendment Activities at Airports

Federal SocMed Guidance

The United States Office of Government Ethics, which provides standards of conduct for federal employees, has released a legal advisory on the use of social media. The six-page document addresses these topics:

  1. Use of Government Time and Property
  2. Reference to Government Title or Position and Appearance of Official Sanction
  3. Recommending and Endorsing Others on Social Media
  4. Seeking Employment through Social Media
  5. Disclosing Nonpublic Information
  6. Personal Fundraising
  7. Official Social Media Accounts

The section on personal fundraising is particularly relevant in Texas right now, as there is a live discussion about an agency executive director who raised funds for a nonprofit activity from entities with business before that agency. Under the federal guidance, the language provides

As a general rule, fundraising solicitations over social media are permissible so long as the employee does not “personally solicit” funds from a subordinate or a known prohibited source. See 5 C.F.R. §2635.808(c)(1).

Prohibited sources includes any person who:

  • Is seeking official action by the employee’s agency;
  • Does business or seeks to do business with the employee’s agency;
  • Conducts activities regulated by the employee’s agency;
  • Has interests that may be substantially affected by performance or nonperformance of he employee’s official duties.

Since many contractors and industry lobbyists follow top agency officials’ personal Twitter accounts, they could still make donations and find ways to bring that to the officials’ attention, but it is a good step removed from personal solicitation.

The Washington Post published an article about the guidance on April 16, 2015.

Center for Digital Government Award

Text of awardThe app was created and donated by Dan Galewsky. Download the app from the Google Store or get the code from Sourceforge.

Best of Texas 2012 Winners Announced (Government Technology Magazine)

Best of Texas award

Photograph by Center for Digital Government

Best of Texas award presentation

Photograph by Center for Digital Government


Photograph by Center for Digital Government

Screenshot by Dan Galewsky of app in development

Screenshot by Dan Galewsky of app in development

Screenshot by Dan Galewsky of app in development

Screenshot by Dan Galewsky of app in development

Screenshot by Dan Galewsky of app in development

Screenshot by Dan Galewsky of app in development


Screenshot by Dan Galewsky of app in development

Screenshot by Dan Galewsky of app in development