OPINION – This election year’s main issue has been about transparency in city government. Access to city hall and our government is a serious concern. It is an issue that is mentioned by numerous candidates. And rightly so, because the process to becoming informed as a citizen can be more discouraging than inviting. I speak from personal experience:
Last Thursday I was turned away from voting at the St. George city offices because even with a lengthy voting history, my identification was questioned.
Due to a residential move, I lacked the necessary ID and was ready to follow the provisional voting procedure. And the poll workers were about to let me cast a provisional ballot. But someone across the room stopped them.
The curious part is that a stranger with no identification made a final determination that I was ineligible to vote.
And, we wonder why voter turnout is so low.
Ed. note: Utah Election Code provides:”If the poll worker is not satisfied that the voter has presented valid voter identification, the poll worker shall… issue the voter a provisional ballot … .” The voter then has a prescribed time and process to resolve the issue.
Under this kind of regimen, the father of someone I know would not be allowed to vote where he is registered to vote; he is a man who has served the St. George community in many capacities and is well known as a public servant – among those not blinded by bureaucracy. He is now a resident at an out-of town veteran’s facility while maintaining a home in St. George. Under the rules, he would be shunned liked a Hooters waitress at an Amish picnic.
Example: Request for carousel information
Two years ago, issues surrounding the carousel were raised during the St. George City Council race.
I attempted to gather the facts and began by asking the receptionist at the front desk in city hall who I needed to speak with. Rather than simply directing me to the proper person, I was given a third-degree inquisition and runaround.
When I bypassed the receptionist and went to the community development office, nobody seemed to know anything about how the carousel was funded even though that is where it was being managed.
Example: Request for budget information
During the City of St. George budget hearings process this year, I requested certain routine budget information in an Excel format. Even though the information was available, I was told I needed to make a GRAMA request, a formal request for information made under the state’s Government Records Access Management Act which outlines records management responsibilities for all governmental entities.
Yes, the information was available in the form I requested, and for most people it would have only taken a few minutes to produce; but unfortunately, there is a prevailing notion in city hall that every request made of the government must also be made complex.
It was days later when I was finally able to get through to someone in the finance office. I do confess that she was quite helpful – though the process was cumbersome and difficult.
Example: Request for animal shelter resolution
This brings me to the present.
I had to contact two city council members to get a copy of the resolution regarding improvements at the animal shelter prior to the St. George City Council’s proposed action.
It is possible to go online and get copies of the City Council agenda, but none of the supporting documentation.
Extra work and manpower might be reasons used for information not being produced. I would accept that as a reasonable excuse if it were not for the fact that information is already assembled and made available to the council members via private internet access.
It sure looks like the bureaucratic administration of the city is averse to public access.
I have been told, in sarcasm by one employee, that the city attorney would require the public to complete a GRAMA request to get an employee’s name, if he could. On occasion it does appear that way.
The St. George City website is nice and there are a lot of “radio buttons” to push, but all of the stations seem to have static.
The federal, state, and increasingly local governments as well, are relying more and more upon bureaucracies to set public policy. Unfortunately, the role of bureaucracy is to regulate and restrict. What is really needed is for elected officials to require more of bureaucrats.
Transparency means that these elected officials ought to demand that the bureaucrats justify their impositions on the public rather than subjecting the public to comply with the designs of cautious bureaucrats.
“The duty of elected officials is not to explain Washington to the people; it is to represent the people in Washington,” former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich told me. The same may be said for local officials.
An open and transparent government means the public has access.
Transparency means bureaucrats should be informed to be easily transparent about every financial transaction.
It means every citizen has ready access to all public business, except personnel matters and proprietary business information of private parties.
Transparency means that every citizen is encouraged to vote.
It means that the government records access rules are not used as a weapon to exclude the public, but rather as a means of assuring nothing is kept from the public.
And, transparency means that websites, reception booths, and public resources are really available to all citizens.
That is the Way I see it.
William Way is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News. Additional writings may be found at wwwjr.wordpress.com.
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