Friday, February 21, 2014

Transparency Should Be Free

By now, you should have received the Spring 2014 edition of the Belle Isle Bulletin. As you may be aware, City Hall recently revived our City's tradition of mailed bulletins as part of it's new "transparency" push to get important information out to the residents of Belle Isle. City Hall is certainly talking the right talk when it speaks of increasing governmental transparency and encouraging resident involvement, but is it walking the walk?

City Hall's initial effort to bolster communications was to hire Kacie Boniberger, our City's first ever "Communications Manager." She was hired on July 15, 2013 at a salary of over $30,000 per year. The Communications Manager position was never formally advertised by the City, so I am unsure how City Hall located Ms. Boniberger for the position.

Although Ms. Boniberger recently left her employment at Belle Isle, she certainly managed to increase the volume of City Hall communications during her tenure here. These days, subscribed residents receive email notices from the City multiple times per week in addition to the mailed bulletins. But sheer volume means little when the vital information is left out.

Transparency and open communication mean notifying residents of all important information, not just the information that City Hall finds convenient. Despite sending out three email notices regarding the City's showing of "Despicable Me 2," City Hall has never sent a single email notice about the election or the qualification dates for potential candidates. Were it not for the hard work of Belle Isle residents in convincing the City Council to pass the "Bernstein Ordinance," residents would not have received anything about the positions up for elections or the qualification deadline, which many potential candidates don't realize comes up four months before the election.

I have heard a lot of City Council discussion over the past year about using the Belle Isle Bulletin as a vehicle to get information out to the residents about elections and important city decisions. So as I opened the Spring 2014 Bulletin, mailed just before our first City Council election in almost a decade, I assumed that a large section would be devoted to information about the upcoming election.

Instead, I found nothing in the entire eight page newsletter. Outside of a small "Municipal Election Day" entry in the calendar section containing no election information whatsoever, the only mention of the upcoming election was in Commissioner Readey's opinion column in the "Commissioners' Corner" section.

Except for Commissioner Readey's thoughts buried on the last page, the Spring 2014 Bulletin contains nothing to clarify the fact that Belle Isle voting is "at large" and that all voters get to vote in both upcoming elections. Nothing about which districts are up for election or who is running. No information about when and where to vote or how to request an absentee ballot.

So while I certainly appreciate City Hall's recent focus on the idea of transparency and open communication, our elected representatives have a long way to go towards implementing real change. Transparency doesn't mean spending taxpayer money on a full-time communications manager or an expensive web designer, it simply means that our elected representatives should communicate with residents before important deadlines and City Council decisions. Transparency should be free.

When City Hall begins announcing election information beyond the bare minimum required by law, when our City Council representatives finally stand up and say "NO" to controversial changes in city services without advance notice to residents, that's when you'll know that Belle Isle has made some real progress towards city transparency!

6 comments:

  1. I am thrilled to see the outrage I feel expressed so eloquently in the Belle Isle Sun....our most reliable source for the real issues that concern us.

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  2. We must all stay on top of city hall to convince them that the residents - not the self serving greed of the governing body - comes first. 90% of them must go, starting with the Mayor and his over priced minion city manager!!

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  3. Transparency? Can you list ALL your public record requests of Belle Isle? I understand their are more than you list on your page.

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  4. Did you notice that the company running the Belle Isle focus group & email survey is based in Atlanta & the owner is the wife of Belle Isle resident, Jack Liberty?

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  5. Wow, guess we should pay more attention to what goes on in Belle Isle. Transparency is not a real priority of most levels of government so I am not surprised.

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  6. This is what we need in BI.

    Town creates fiscal transparency system
    by: Kurt Schultheis, Managing Editor, Longboat Key Observer, 2/26
    The town of Longboat Key has created a new fiscal transparency system that’s available on the town’s website.
    The Information Technology Department developed a “Fiscal Transparency” system, which is an application that provides a unique level of transparency in municipal budgeting.
    The application provides five years worth of current and historical expenditure data as well as graphing tools and also the ability to export the data to Microsoft Excel. 7

    Taxpayers can view revenues budgeted for the current fiscal year, revenue amounts collected so far and updates on the town’s general, utility and building funds.
    The system is updated daily and is updated on the town’s web site.
    The application can be accessed through www.longboatkey.org.
    (Below is a note to me from Kathi Pletzke, LBK IT Director. Great job!!! -ken)
    The Town of Longboat Key, FL may be a small island community, but we are committed to be a leader in providing fiscal transparency.
    We developed a new system called “Fiscal Transparency”, which is available through our website. This application provides an unique level of transparency in municipal budgeting. The App provides a high level “Executive” view, with five years worth of current and historical expenditure data as well as graphing tools and also the ability to export the data to EXCEL. People wonder how Detroit could have gone bankrupt…with transparency like this…that situation won’t be repeated (at least not in LBK)!
    What you will see in PIE chart view are Revenues budgeted for the fiscal year (and actual YTD amounts collected so far) for the 3 major funds (General, Utility and Building plus all other funds). You can also toggle to see the expenditures for each fund.
    The data displayed is dynamic; directly from the Town’s financial system. It is as current as of the last posting.
    We launched this App last Friday and have received nothing but positive reviews. Please go to the Town's website to get the interactive version.

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