Transparency is vital in our representative democracy. It’s essential in our efforts for fair representation, protection of our liberties and it helps create a well-informed and engaged electorate.
It’s this core value that has lead to the implementation and enforcement of KOMA and KORA (Kansas Open Meetings Act and Kansas Open Records Act). It is also the same value set that is deeply engrained in our local governing body’s minds and can be seen time after time by the representation each provides. Members and staff regularly provide information on our website (augustaks.org), Facebook, Twitter, Channel 7, workshops/forums, regular open meetings, newspaper and other written media and in the readiness and willingness that citizens’ calls and emails are returned. Transparency is alive and well at City Hall!
Recently, a discussion regarding changes in our Council meetings has caused some to take pause, others to share their concerns and others to question the intent of such changes. Is our Council becoming less transparent by adopting these new practices? I don’t think so; however, improving our communication methods need to continue being a priority.
Let’s take a moment to consider the facts that have called the issue of transparency into question. First, our Council meeting agendas now include a consent calendar. A consent calendar is a standard meeting practice that adds efficiency and structure to a meeting’s agenda. A simple survey of other local cities and counties will clearly show that consent calendars are the preferred medium to approve routine items such as minutes, appropriations and previously approved budgeted items, such as cars, equipment and other agreed upon improvements clearly delineated in our budget. Most council members will agree that lengthy discussions are often repetitive in nature regarding some of these items that are both standard and routine (i.e. animal clinic fees, payroll deductions, etc). In no way is a consent calendar meant to curtail true discussion or to exclude the public from its contents.
ANY item on the consent calendar may be discussed. If the discussion of items is satisfactory to the individual who inquires, the motion may proceed to approve the entire set of items included in the consent calendar. If an item within the calendar is requested to be ‘pulled’ by ANY of the council members or mayor, it may be pulled. Essentially, with these two options – the consent calendar provides the same level of transparency as having no consent calendar. The difference – only one motion is needed to approve rather than multiple motions.
Another concern mentioned would be posting the full agendas. I think this is a great suggestion and needs to be done. Our City Manager suggested two things in this regard. First, a three-ring binder containing the full agenda packet will be available at the utility office for viewing prior to meetings. Second, an upgrade to the City’s scanning/uploading software needs to be made so the entire contents of the agenda may be placed online. In the meantime, a PDF format of the agenda packet will be available on the City’s website effective March 3, 2014 Council Meeting. The agenda packet will be posted no later than the Friday before the Monday meetings. We have an excellent, easy to navigate website which could only be improved by additional content. Currently on our website, we are able to place recorded meetings online for viewing – which is one more example of our local government being MORE transparent than in years past. As technology improves and becomes more economical, more information can be shared in a more efficient manner to the public.
Page 2 of 2 - There are other measures our governing body can employ to improve our current routines. We’ll continue working toward these improvements.
In the end, it is our responsibility as a governing body to engage our residents and be receptive to suggestions and concerns so that we represent our community at our very best. This will always be a priority. With this in mind, please do not hesitate to contact me. Your concerns are my concerns.