Local Government Participation and Concerns
Many local governments are enthusiastic participants in the Working Groups, particularly those devoted to education (which is chaired by a local official) and to data standards and coordination. In addition, The Local Government Advisory Group involves about 50 members from around the state. By the end of 2001, 50% of the participants in the Data Sharing Cooperative are local governments (185 of 372 member organizations), although this figure represents a minor share of all local governments and includes many that do not have data of their own to share.
Local participation in the data sharing cooperative, has developed slowly for several reasons. First, local officials and legal authorities must understand and approve the agreements. Many times the GIS staff are very enthusiastic about the cooperative but the legal department or other administrative unit, which has not been involved in the development of the cooperative concept, needs considerable time to become familiar with the idea and to review the agreement. Ironically, some express skepticism because there is no cost to participants and they fear hidden costs lie under the surface. In order to overcome these barriers, OFT developed an agreement which is very user-oriented, with no cost and low risk to join, and an easy termination clause for those who may wish to withdraw.
Second, a major concern with the State's Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) has prevented many local governments from joining the formal Data Sharing Cooperative or listing their data sets in the Clearinghouse. FOIL was originally developed to guarantee citizen access to public records as a means of improving government accountability. However, it does not distinguish between information requested for accountability purposes and information requested for commercial purposes. Thus, new businesses addressing the "information age" market can acquire GIS data sets from public agencies through FOIL, then repackage and sell them at a profit, even to other public agencies. Some government agencies are therefore strongly opposed to advertising the availability of their costly data sets on the Clearinghouse, fearing commercial entities will obtain and profit from them without cost through FOIL
In order to solve this long-standing problem, the Temporary GIS Council had recommended that the Freedom of Information Law be amended to allow local governments and state agencies to charge fees for data to be used for commercial purposes. The proposed amendment to FOIL would allow the licensing of geographic information system records and enable primary custodians to license a GIS record prescribing the conditions under which the recipient of the record may use, distribute, duplicate, sell, or resell it. It would also allow local governments and state agencies to charge a reasonable fee, not to exceed the fair market value of the record, when commercial use is intended. The revenue gained through these fees was expected to help local governments and state agencies defray the costs of GIS development and maintenance, as well as provide for expanded and enhanced public access to government information. This amendment is very controversial and has not yet been enacted. Not surprisingly, there is serious opposition by the private sector.