Transparency by Elected Officials Needs Improvement

Guest Correspondence

Image courtesy Pixabay.

Some heavy decisions have recently been made at many local governments without the open transparency that should be provided to the public. Decisions are being made, and based upon, important documents or considerations without the public getting to see those documents in advance of meetings. This usurps the ability of the public to comment on the information in the documents, or even understand the decision.

Most local governmental legislative bodies have a report section on their meeting agendas where an elected official can bring up most any issue they want and start to advance their idea on a solution.

There is also an ability to attach documents to the packet in that agenda under the report sections. At the very least, the elected official has the ability to send documents to known stakeholders in advance of meetings so they can participate in the process.

The Argus Foundation has noticed a recent trend in local governments where local elected officials in several governments are making choices not to publish those pre-prepared documents in advance of meetings. They are even choosing not to disclose the documents at the meeting before public comment, thus eliminating public participation in the decision-making process.

This is a troubling trend that deserves focus and attention. We would like to believe that this is an oversight by elected officials, but the consistency in which this is happening is increasing.

Forcing members of the public to send public records requests to see documents used by local elected officials at public meetings should not be the rule, it should be the exception.

On top of this, withholding these documents from the public is actually increasing government costs. After a public records request, staff has to take the time to chase down these documents from elected officials and staff time costs taxpayer money. This all can be avoided by disclosure of documents in advance of meetings and at the very least, disclosure to stakeholders.

The Argus Foundation urges every local government to develop a policy for their agenda report sections to increase transparency and participation by the public. If documents are available or created that they plan to use at a meeting, they should be disclosed and available to the public in advance for public comment. Government officials need to set an example for their staffs that they are transparent and respectful of their time and resources, while encouraging public participation.

Christine Robinson is the executive director of The Argus Foundation.

 

Image courtesy Pixabay.

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