There is a trend emerging at meetings of local elected boards that has me a bit concerned. In many instances these days, the meetings are only lasting a few minutes, with many of the decisions being made behind closed doors, far from the oversight of not only our elected officials, but reporters who cover the meetings and report back to you, the citizens and taxpayers.
My only evidence that this is a bad thing is the short meetings themselves. Sure, elected officials may be given thick packets with lots of information, but much of this information should be discussed and decided on in a public way, even if it means a longer meeting.
That’s not to say that every meeting is being handled this way, or that those who are running local government, schools and other entities are withholding information from elected officials. My guess is that over time in an effort to streamline things and for efficiency’s sake – and in some cases to avoid controversy – we are deciding way too many things in a manner not transparent enough to the public.
There was a day when it seemed most every meeting lasted for hours and included a lot of wasted time. Many is the time years ago that a reporter for The Salem News sat down to write a story, bemoaning the fact there was a mountain of information and lots of elected official innuendo to work through. My guess is we need a middle ground.
Let me emphasize that every meeting does not have to last an hour and a half or two hours. Some boards and elected officials don’t need that much time. But those who need that much time to be proper stewards of the people’s money need to take that much time. Are they?
If you are wanting specific examples of what I’m writing about, you aren’t going to get them today. Anyone who is intentionally shortening a meeting to avoid transparency or a little controversy knows who they are, even if we don’t. If the shoe fits, as they say. . .
I am simply saying there is a certain amount of time needed to properly handle business in an efficient yet open manner, and I don’t think in every instance our elected officials are demanding that. I guess you could call it circumstantial evidence, and the only folks with the answers are the ones we went to the ballot box and placed at the decision-making table.
Maybe I am wrong. But if I’m right, the only people who can do something about this situation are the elected officials themselves. Demand that the people and groups you oversee not only provide plenty of information, but make you part of the decision process and hear your voice. That’s why we elected you. Don’t get lulled to sleep by an efficient, qualified staff. We have a plethora of those in Dent County, however everyone needs oversight.
My strongest argument for a hands-on board is that unless you are a hands-on board, you really don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, including important budget decisions. Your input in decision making and oversight don’t mean you think those you oversee aren’t doing a good job. It means you are doing your job. Ask questions. Demand answers. Dig a little deeper if you don’t think you have enough information. We elected you to do just that, not pull out your rubber-stamp.
What should not be lost in all this talk of meetings and oversight is everyone’s responsibility to bring transparency to the public, and often that transparency comes through the local media when we cover meetings in person or report on meetings dependent on meeting minutes. When all is said and done, it’s not just the board or the media who should demand and deserve transparency, it’s the public.
No matter what board you are elected to or volunteer for, you were chosen to be a watchdog as well as a decision maker. Just remember it takes time to do your job and do it right.