Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Transparency Opportunities for New Davidson Board

Now that the holidays have come and gone, the new Davidson Board is about to get down to work in earnest over the next few weeks.  With that, there are plenty of opportunities (big and small) to improve transparency in how our government works.  To be clear, these things are easy.  Not doing them is a choice.

Here are some small ones...
  1. Provide Video of Board Meetings and Work Sessions - The town has a YouTube station, the equipment, and expertise to video these.  The Public Information Officer, Christina Shaul, attends almost all of these meetings anyway.  There is really zero incremental cost to doing this, but it provides much better documentation of events than simple meeting minutes.  (Note: In the absence of the town doing this, aShortChronicle plans to video these meetings going forward when possible.)
  2. Publish Meeting Agendas Earlier - Per the town's own rules, Mayor Woods and Town Manager Leamon Brice control what goes on the meeting agendas.  To allow citizens ample time to review these agendas prior to the Tuesday meetings, a commitment to publishing these agendas by close of business Friday would be a big improvement.  This would allow citizens ample time to review and plan on whether or not they needed to attend the meeting.
  3. Drop "Team Building" Meetings - In late 2012, Davidson Commissioners started meeting in Commissioners' homes for "team building".  These meetings are not currently on the 2014 meeting schedule, and it should stay that way.  Meeting in private homes, while not illegal, does not support a spirit of openness and causes confusion as to the true purpose of these meetings. 
  4. Agenda/Meeting Organization - Put items on the agenda with more public interest as early in the agenda as possible.  Some of Davidson's Town Board meetings turn into marathons with important items like budget discussions not even beginning until hours into the evening.  That in itself is not necessarily an issue, but since there is very little time management of the meetings people can not reasonably plan on attending closer to when a topic of interest is to be discussed.  If the unnecessary "team building" meetings are dropped and replaced with a second work session, this meeting could handle some of the overflow discussion to shorten individual meetings.
  5. Support Local Businesses and Openness at the same time - The Town recently launched a new public relations push called "Turn around. Shop in town."  It would be nice if the town practiced what it preached with spending for Town retreats.  Later this month the Town Board will have it's annual retreat to discuss town management and plan for the coming year.  Rather than have this year's retreat locally, the Town Board will be heading off to Mid-Pines golf resort for a 3-day meeting - far away from any prying eyes here in Davidson.  This was planned before the last election, but going forward these should be done in town to the benefit of local hotels and other businesses.
Those are the easy ones.  They could all be done with a stroke of the pen so to speak.  They are zero-cost efforts that would be tangible proof of a real desire to be as open and transparent as possible.

There are others changes involving ethics, conflicts of interest, and inclusion which will require much more effort and political courage.  However, those are topics for another day.

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