Transparency in governance is a never-ending battle

BY CHRIS FAULKNOR, PUBLISHER

What does St. James Township have to do with my grandma?

It’s not so much a riddle but a wise truth, and I’ll explain why.

A wise man once told me to live my life as if my grandmother were watching every move and listening to my every conversation.

Naturally, I cringed as I remembered the last time I stuck the universal “bad driver” signal out my car window, dropped the dreaded “f-bomb” when I slammed my thumb in the car door, and went to the movies to do everything but watch a movie.

But it makes sense, right?

In my opinion, our government should operate as if the taxpayers were watching their every move.

In fact, they should operate as if every single thing they all did would appear in a simple, easy-to-read format in one place, so that you, Joe the Citizen, can see everything your government has done at a glance.

You’ve undoubtedly read about the St. James Township fiasco.

For years, their sewer system was misrun, in fact, it was misrun to the point of being broke.

That’s because bills weren’t sent out, service was maintained to non-payers, and funds had to be improperly borrowed from other places.

It’s like coming home to find your kids a mess and asking the babysitter, “Who was watching them when this happened?”

Well, you may find it surprising that the government is actually supposed to be working as if the taxpayers can see every move in once place, because it’s the law, but it’s not enough.

Certain government entities are required to publish a record of every decision made in the local Newspaper of Record.
And yet, it isn’t working the way it should.

Our local school board, for example, handles hundreds of thousands of your taxpayer dollars and isn’t required to publish a record of its decisions.

Planning commissions and other boards are also exempt from publishing these records for you, the citizens, to see.

Some local municipalities choose to publish their notices in a cheaper, smaller newspaper based in another county, perhaps knowing that the information published there will never make it in front of their constituents, and they will never be held accountable.

Another entity went months without publishing a notice and then picked back up as if nothing ever happened.

If they don’t post information in third-party news media when it’s legally required to, what will they do when they have the luxury of posting it somewhere on their own website? If they feel like getting around to it.

And now, the push is beginning to allow governments to place their notices online on their own websites.

If that happens, there will be no independent entity to make sure these things are published, no oversight to make sure this important information is easy to access, and nobody to watch over our governments.

Not only that, but it will no longer be all located on a page in your Boyne City Gazette.

No, you’ll have to go to the website for each unit of government and figure out how to access it, find the file, and comb through for your notice.

It sounds to me like the metaphorical Grandma won’t be listening to every conversation anymore, and I don’t think that’ll bother a lot of government officials a single bit.

If you agree with me and want your government to be held accountable to you, the taxpayers in the years to come, call your elected officials and tell them so.

After all, somebody had to make those decisions in St. James Township, and if they had been operating as if their taxpayers could see their every move, I’d stake a bet that they wouldn’t have needed an attorney and an auditing firm over the past year to clean up their mess.

We at the Boyne City Gazette will continue to write stories about as much of the local issues as we have time and resources to do so. But, the simple truth is, we just cannot cover every single thing that happens in Charlevoix County’s 13 municipal governments and its hundreds of commissions, councils, subcommittees, and so on—no one can.

Instead of making the public notice requirements weaker, we should be demanding our legislators to make them stronger.

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