The more I talk to residents, the more I hear the same thing over and over. While the statement takes different flavors, it always comes down to "I don't understand why they are hiding everything. How hard is it to be transparent?" But what are we residents really asking for -- what do we mean when we are demanding transparency in our government?
At its core, transparency is the requirement that government share information with its citizens. This would include decisions that are being made, the background and impact of these decisions, and ultimately disclosing the full costs of those decisions.
Now, let's get real for second. Ever since the first Freedom of Information Act and the Open Meetings Act were signed into law, the lawmakers (and their lawyers) have been working to find ways to get around it. In the case of the OMA, trustees play a game of round robin where they essentially play the childhood game of telephone to attempt to discuss things. In fully functional municipalities, this can be done through the City Manager/CAO; but the goal is to attempt not to violate OMA, but also get things done without a public meeting. For FOIA, it's a game to see how small a paper trail anyone in government can leave. While if your day job is like mine, I get 100's of emails a day -- imagine that our trustees may not get more than 4 a month -- and all of those are "board packet is ready" type emails.
When we trust our elected officials this normally isn't a problem; but once trust is broken, then these games become a huge issue. It isn't just that frankly these games underestimate the intelligence of your residents; it's that these games are meant to hide information from the public. And once you are caught hiding one thing, there's always going to be a question as to what else are you hiding?
As we look at our upcoming meeting, the residents are (rightly so) confused on an ordinance that is buried inside a consent agenda. There's no back-up information in the board packet to explain the need for this change, why this is being brought up now and frankly, why are we spending time writing this code change before say looking at the permit fees that are not covering the costs of HR Green as promised by the CAO when she hired HR Green in late 2019?
Yes, we can and have emailed the board; but my experience has been that the responses I've gotten aren't the whole story and once questioned the Trustees or President shut down communication. So, given that the board can't talk to each other about this change, they certainly aren't emailing each other about it -- so, how can they vote on this without even explaining it to the public.
Let me be clear -- this ordinance may be something we need. It may be something I'd personally support; but our board needs to give me, and the rest of the residents in Lakewood, the information to judge this for ourselves. However, in light of all that I've seen since May and all that I've heard listening to three years of board meetings -- I can't trust that even something that could be so benign really is. Even if it is benign, are there not better things this board and our administration could be doing? Is there nothing more pressing like for example, fixing the budget issues; solving the losing money in the building department; scheduling that long promised town hall for the flooding issues in the Gates, update on the success of that irrigation well for RedTail?
Tomorrow night, the residents, the ones who are demanding transparency, will be watching. They will be watching fully knowing that they have a right to have better government than they currently have -- one that is transparent and open. A set of elected officials that understands trust is hard earned and easily lost -- and works overtime to ensure that they keep and value the trust placed in them. The question is when, not if, will Lakewood get this government?