THE LANDMARK VIEW
Transparency as a goal in government is a laudable thing. Through the decades, government has made itself more accountable to U.S. citizens by passing laws ensuring that public documents be made available and that public policy discussions be held in the light of day, uncloaked from the citizens whom the policies will affect.
But all the same governments or, rather, the political organizations that make up government, don’t like the scrutiny. Scrutiny means questions. Questions mean potential disagreements. Disagreements make people angry and politicians risk losing voters.
The public’s business is often messy, often rife with disagreements – over policy, over politics and over just how much the public ought to know and when it ought to know it.
As a newspaper, our position is clear. The public is entitled to know what governments are thinking when it comes to public policy – not just when the policy has been crafted by one political group within a government and is ready for implementation. Even if that policy is guaranteed to have widespread acceptance (and especially if it’s guaranteed not to) there is no reason why governments cannot hash out details of that policy in public.
In June, the Riverside village board will meet to discuss financial and other policies. The goal is to come to a consensus on policies to give the village manager and department heads direction as they embark on preparing the 2011 budget. The June 2 meeting is not, as we understand it, the first in a series of policy discussions that will eventually lead to consensus. It is the meeting where staff and village management hope general consensus will be reached.
“I’d much rather not have it drag out,” Village Manager Peter Scalera told the Landmark last week. While Scalera said staff would “go with the flow” if the board feels the need to consider policies more carefully, he notes, “we already need to start planning for [the budget].”
Last week the Landmark learned of two documents that will inform the policy discussions on June 2, both relating to the recreation department. Both were labeled confidential, although both were released upon the village receiving a Freedom of Information Act request.
If the documents are actually public, why the attempt to hide them from public view? Will these documents raise questions and prompt debate? Undoubtedly, they will. This particular policy, crafted without input from the entire board, is exactly the kind of thing that merited public discussion.
What this board risks doing is giving Riversiders the impression that public policy is not a collaborative process, it is dictated from the top down. If that’s not the impression the board wishes to give its citizens, it will do well to resurrect such forums as the board’s Committee of the Whole, where policy discussions of this nature can be held freely and frankly among trustees, where differences of opinion can be aired and where citizens can see their government doing the public’s business in public.