This transformative election for Davidson provides the opportunity for this new group of elected officials to make their mark on trust and transparency in local government. Trust and transparency, or the lack thereof, in Town Hall was the underlying theme that drove this past election and moving swiftly to take definitive action to improve public perception on that front will be critical to the new Board's success.
Here are 7 things that can be done immediately and at no cost to positively impact these areas:
1. Pass a resolution stating that neither the mobility bonds approved this cycle nor any other Town funds will be used to support land acquisition or use of eminent domain for the Potts-Sloan-Beaty connector project or any multi-use path construction along Potts street.
2. Publicly instruct the Town Manager that town communications should no longer be conducted in a manner that resembles a coordinated information campaign unless it involves improved public safety. Press releases should come out immediately after relevant events (3 business day delay maximum).
3. Commit to providing a public access terminal for public records at Town Hall. Also, instruct staff that if records requests compiled by the Town have documents pulled due to any valid reason under public records law, state the number of documents that were withheld due to said reason.
4. Pass an updated Rules of Procedure that allows two Commissioners to add an item to a regular meeting agenda. Currently, agenda items can only be added if the Mayor and Town Manager agree. While this probably won't be an issue under the new administration, it is still good public policy. Agendas should also be structured such that the most pressing issues for the public are discussed first to accommodate citizen schedules. Less important agenda items or presentations should not be used to draw out meetings in hopes the public will leave prior to getting to the items of public concern.
5. Pass a resolution or add to the Rules of Procedure stating no informal polling of commissioners via email or otherwise will occur prior to a public vote on any subject. Polling violates the spirit of open meetings law and makes a farce of the citizen public comments at the meetings themselves.
6. Eliminate or strictly constrain 2x2 meetings with staff and Commissioners done to avoid public meetings law. This is where staff meets with Commissioners in groups of no more than 2 elected officials. More than 2 would require it be announced as a public meeting. These 2x2 meetings should be eliminated completely for planning related topics or anything requiring a public hearing. All other topics discussed in 2x2 sessions should posted on the Town website.
7. Post all development projects in discussion on the Town website under a pre-proposal section. Townspeople should no longer be surprised by proposals that show up on the town website only when a fully completed proposal is submitted often after months of discussion and negotiation with staff. This would also apply to planning related changes initiated by staff or electeds. This would provide a single place where citizens could find notice of new projects or potential zoning rule changes.
These changes or some variation would cost nothing and would give citizens a good feeling about where the Town is headed when it comes to greater transparency in government. They would also help prevent any slippage back towards the behaviours that got us to the point of falling Citizen Survey scores when it comes to trust in local government in the first place.