Transparency is a fundamental principle that underpins the effective functioning of local government. It refers to the openness, accountability, and accessibility of information and decision-making processes. In the context of village boards and school boards, transparency plays a crucial role in ensuring the trust of citizens, promoting responsible and sensible governance, and fostering civic engagement. Here I will examine the significance of transparency in local government, with specific emphasis on village boards and school boards.
For the purposes of Accountability and Public Trust
Transparency in local government fosters accountability and upholds public trust. When decision-making processes and the reasons behind those decisions are made accessible to the public, citizens are better able to hold their elected officials accountable. Transparent governance builds confidence in the system and ensures that public officials act in the best interests of the community.
In a local village board, transparency ensures that it becomes easier for the public to track and evaluate the actions taken by board members. The availability of information such as meeting agendas, minutes, and financial reports allows citizens to hold officials accountable for their promises, commitments, and the overall performance of their duties.
Let’s give an example of this. Let’s say that a village board decided to only meet with only two or three members at a time in committees. By doing this, they’d be under the “trigger” for Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Laws, and thus would not have to have those meetings open to the public. By choosing to do this, and by e-mailing those that weren’t in the committee individually to discuss topics, they can essentially make decisions away from the “prying” eyes of the public. Certainly, the final votes have to be cast in public meetings, but by the time those subjects get TO the public meetings, the decision has already essentially been made, without any public input. The public was not privy to these private conversations, and have no way of knowing how these decisions were made, which can result in a dysfunctional system wherein the actual public meeting is merely a formality, the publicly elected members just “going through the motions” without any conversation, debate, and without public input. This is VERY bad for accountability and the public trust.
Transparency in school board operations is especially critical, as it builds trust among parents, students, and the broader community. When the decision-making processes are transparent, it ensures that education policies, curriculum development, and resource allocation align with the best interests of students and their educational needs. Open communication and accessible information help foster a positive partnership between schools and the community they serve.
Effective Resource Allocation
Transparent decision-making processes also enable local boards to allocate resources effectively. When the decision-making process is open and accessible, it allows for public scrutiny, reducing the likelihood of favoritism, nepotism, or wasteful expenditure. Transparent budgeting and financial reporting also enable citizens to understand how their tax dollars are being utilized and to provide feedback or suggestions for improvement.
Transparency acts as a safeguard against corruption and misconduct in local government. When the operations of village boards and school boards are conducted in an open and accountable manner, it becomes more difficult for officials to engage in unethical practices or abuse their positions of power. The fear of public scrutiny acts as a deterrent, creating an environment of integrity and ethical conduct.
Let’s give an example. Let’s say that a school has recently lost a few good teachers due to a tightening of purse strings. The school had decided to cut down on labor to reduce costs. At the same time, the school principal has a son that likes to participate in Pickleball. It would be highly unethical for that Principal to speak to school board members to convince them to invest thousands of dollars in a new Pickleball court at the same time that the school is also firing teachers to save money. Sure, other children may use the Pickleball court as well, but the nepotism did affect the direction of money expenditures in a way that benefit a small portion of the students, a the expense of a larger portion of them. It would be sacrificing the education of many children, for the extracurricular activities of one child, or a few.
If the public was made more aware of such decisions, then they could more effectively speak out against such inefficient resource allocation before the funds are approved and spent. The school would then spend their money in a more cost-effective manner, maximizing the benefit to the whole student body.
Public Participation and Civic Engagement
Transparency also promotes public participation and civic engagement in local government. By providing access to information, such as meeting agendas, minutes, and reports, village boards and school boards allow citizens to stay informed and actively participate in decision-making processes. This inclusivity fosters a sense of ownership and empowerment among community members, ultimately resulting in more well-informed and representative decisions.
It is important that the public knows when meetings are happening and what they will be about, so that they have a chance to attend, and speak to the subject in an informed way, helping to guide the public officials to make the best decision based, at least partly, on the input and advice of the electorate. This also has a side effect of rejuvenating civic engagement, as the citizenry will be more excited to engage in public decisions if they are made more aware of what those decisions entail, and how it may affect them.
Transparency is a fundamental pillar of effective local government, specifically when it comes to village boards and school boards. By promoting accountability, effective resource allocation, public participation, and trust-building, transparency strengthens the relationship between citizens and their elected officials. It ensures that decision-making processes are fair, inclusive, and responsive to the needs and aspirations of the community. To build robust and sustainable local governance systems, it is imperative to prioritize transparency and actively work towards creating an environment where citizens have access to information and the ability to engage in decision-making processes.