Transparency & Open Government
TRANSPARENCY : WE ALL WANT IT – BUT, WHAT IS IT?
Its election season so calls for (and promises of) transparency abound. Do I believe in “transparency”? Of course I do. So does everyone running for office- regardless of party affiliation.
But what does “Transparency” mean and how is it achieved?
Almost every article written during previous elections quotes a candidate promising to bring transparency to our county government. Yet it remains a prominent issue. It appears things do not become more transparent. I do not think this is a case of people promising one thing to get elected and then delivering something far different. I think it is a problem with definitions and expectations.
As a local school board director, I am responsible for certain amount of financial transparency. It is state law. The Elizabeth School District publishes budgets, financial statements, audits – even check registers online for anyone to see. Our decision-making is conducted in publically noticed meetings. We have gathered community stakeholders prior to decisions regarding ballot measures and conducted widely advertised town hall meetings to inform and gather input from our community. We are transparent and board members strive to be accessible to all.
I believe these measures – this manner of approach to public business can (and should) be brought to our county. However, even if the processes change, I think it is very likely that we will still hear complaints about lack of transparency. Why? Well, certainly, openness can always be improved. But, where frustration regarding lack of transparency exists – you will find at its root: mistrust. And underlying mistrust is generally poor communication.
So how do you provide transparency? You do this first by improving communication so you can build trust. With open communication and trust – in the board room, in coordination between county departments and offices and between the county government as a whole and the citizens we serve – you will see fewer demands for ever more transparency and more focus on identifying and resolving the issues we face.
In the end, this is what we want. A well run and trusted government that addresses the issues important to us.
The continuous cycle represented here is designed to build trust and address issues – openly. It begins with a public assessment of where we are based on established measures of accountability. Issues identified through this transparent assessment process are further defined through public input and discussion to determine what “right looks like”. Solutions are designed with input from all affected departments. New processes or procedures are resourced and county employees implement. Results are periodically assessed and the cycle continues – all supported by continuous efforts to communicate and inform.
To make this happen requires a plan – and disciplined and collaborative execution. It requires vision, leadership and willingness to put real effort and resources into making it happen. It will lead to more than simple transparency – it will result in an open government focused on serving its citizens. I look forward to leading this effort.