Editorial: Jerry Smith

Openness, accountability and honesty

Originally planned for this column was the topic of “Sights and Sounds of Christmas.” Of course I know that Christmas has passed already. This space was going to discuss the wild pace we travel to get to and get through Christmas to the next phase of life.

To be emphatic here, let me declare that I love the sights and sounds of Christmas. The wonderfully lit and decorated communities and all those families far away from any community who work (and I can tell it required great effort) to light their homes and yard excite this old man’s heart, and to all the youngsters who pass by.

A Change of Heart: Most local citizens are aware of the ongoing controversy surrounding the City of Calhoun’s change in the structure of services (primarily electric). Going to the heart of the matter is the change submitted and passed by members of the City Council.

At this writing, that change of structure will take place early in 2017. This discussion today will not be one of the factors of the changes as much as issues surrounding changes. We will consider a few characteristics involved in this and any change by a governing body. It is felt here that, to a great extent, these characteristics have been lacking in actions recently taken.

Transparency in Government - Local and Higher Levels:

The issue of transparency is a prevalent issue for those running for a political office. For instance, we heard the word used often in the presidential election of 2008. It became a non-used expression following the election; the same can be said about elections at any level.

In keeping with my often used expression from an ancient philosopher “A proposition well defined is half argued,” let me describe what is meant by transparency as used in reference to government entities and those who make up those entities.

First, let it be emphasized that transparency is essential in the interactions of people, educators and those who govern. One person said of transparency: “Openness, accountability and honesty define government transparency.”

Citizens of any government organization often feel left out. This breeds excess comments and criticisms of the government. I will go on record here as saying it isn’t always all those that govern who are at fault. I doubt that anyone reading these words is ignorant of this writer’s position that many in our society can’t read to the degree they can understand, reason and draw valid conclusions by what has been written. In personal correspondence and conversation there has been ignorance, prejudice, lies and a lack of reasoning ability directed toward people I know and love (and I might add toward me personally which doesn’t bother me very much; the source is always considered). Many simply don’t avail themselves of the training, opportunity or effort to read and study facts of the issues which are available to them.

For all those who value a free society I allow the writer quoted above who defined transparency as “Openness, accountability and honesty” speak further on the subject. He said, “In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable.”

Openness in Government:

As a rule, local governments make available (to a high degree) the information involving their conduct, actions and plans. This policy becomes ineffective and does not apply when two or more members of a governing group meet, and implement plans alone and away from the public meeting of their group. It becomes deceptive when it is advanced at a recognized public meeting and is known as contrary to the views of other members.

I like the rule for school boards in Georgia that says school board members cannot act in solo but must act in concert. This rule has not always been followed (examples are available from far back in years). Such disregard is intellectual dishonesty at its heights. This rule would be a good one for all legal units of local government.

 Public records requests have surged in recent years, thanks in large part to the transparency and open data movements passed in certain states. This leads me to say government records are available and open for inspection upon request. Many items in public records are of a private and individual nature and are of little interest to the average citizen.

Listen to this statement by an official of Montgomery County, Maryland and their 2012 law on transparency: The official urged: “[There should be] timely implementation by all City departments of equitable outreach and engagement practices that reaffirm the City’s commitment to inclusive participation.”

Now to Close:

As usual, I have come to a closing point and haven’t begun to write all I wanted to say. Here is a statement concerning a practical side of matters: we still have not received a statement in answer to “Who thought of this idea to change the structure?” Neither has anyone explained how this (or any) change can or will improve the operation of our utilities. If explanation of pertinent points can be made to 20 select (and I emphasize “select’) individuals, why not every individual?

Also, there is more to this matter than meets the eye (or the ear) at this point. Stay tuned for another “exciting” chapter later.