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Wellington Daily News - Wellington, KS
  • Column: Transparency is always a good idea

  • Transparency is always a good thing, especially when it comes to government. There is a general distrust of government - at all levels - in our culture now. Some of that is intentional with an agenda of its own, but some of it is also justified.


    One way to break down the general distrust of government is for government to be open and transparent by giving easy access to any or all of its documents.
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  • Editor's Notes
    by James Jordan
    Transparency is always a good thing, especially when it comes to government. There is a general distrust of government - at all levels - in our culture now. Some of that is intentional with an agenda of its own, but some of it is also justified.
    One way to break down the general distrust of government is for government to be open and transparent by giving easy access to any or all of its documents. Another aspect of being transparent, is to discuss things publicly as opposed in executive session, or private meetings. It is one thing to follow the letter of the law, but it is another to be truly open and transparent.
    Our local governing bodies do in general follow the letter of the law, but I think they could do a lot more to be more open about their operations.
    Our “big three,” -  the city of Wellington, Sumner County and the
    Wellington schools - are all in the budget process. This is where plans are made and tax rates are set. They may have to adjust their plan, but it is at least a plan they intend to follow. This is arguably the biggest thing they do. It sets your tax rates and it sets the priorities for that governing body. Your wallet and your quality of life will be affected by the budgets of the “big three.”
    One has their “budget notice” in this week’s paper, and the other two will follow in upcoming issues. This is a notice of public hearing, where you can go to the meeting and voice any objections to the budget. That is great. However, the details are not now public, so it is going to be hard to be well informed enough to have any specific objections to any budget.
    Generally speaking, they also vote to pass their budget after the public hearing, so one has to wonder how seriously objections will be taken.
    We were able to get some information on the local budgets, but we were only given access to totals, not the specifics. Most did discuss their budgets publicly, but as a reporter, if you dont have the numbers to look at, it is really hard to understand what they are talking about.
    The local schools also failed to notify us of special meetings which they all have to deal with budget specifics.
    On the other side, the public is rarely very interested. In Newton they actually have public meetings where anyone can go over the tiniest detail with city officials, but hardly anyone shows up. The last year I was there they offered free hot dogs and soft drinks, and that didn’t help attendance much.
    Page 2 of 2 - So while I am saying our local governing officials could do more to be open and transparent, you and I also have a responsibility.
    It is one thing for a reporter to be a pest and ask for various records, it is another for constituents to make those requests. I would like to challenge our readers to do just that. Go to your local officials and ask to see budget documents. Go to the public hearings and make your voice heard.
    We do realize our readers depend on us to do that for them, but it wouldn’t hurt if some readers would let government officials know they are paying attention.
    It is not that I think they are hiding something necessarily. I generally do think these are honest people doing a hard job, and it is a lot of responsibility. It is just that the records should be open to the public.
    There is an easy way to debunk the distrust of government. The question is, will those that can, do it?

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