6 Ways To Make Local Government More Transparent

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Show residents that the Deep State hasn’t infected their local government (and won’t on your watch).

With the public’s trust in government at an all-time low, anything you can do to increase transparency in your administration is a point in your favor. 

Community members should be able to trust their local government and be as involved as they want to be. Making sure the public knows what you as a local government official are up to is an essential part of making that happen. 

The “Why” Behind Public Transparency

Transparency in local government is important for all the same reasons that transparency is important in the state and federal governments. American governance is built upon the idea that “we the people” are sovereign and that the government ultimately works for us. Public officials are public servants who are paid by tax dollars and tasked with furthering the interests of the public. 

Just like in any job, it’s important to remember who you work for. An employer who doesn’t know (or worse, is prevented from knowing) what an employee does all day isn’t likely to keep that employee around for long. 

This is especially true at the local government level. Local government is supposed to be the governing organization community members feel the most connected with, so good luck getting re-elected if your neighbors think you’re doing shady work.

Public Transparency Principles

There are four overarching principles to keep in mind when considering how your administration can be more transparent:

  • You work for the public. This means that except in instances where disclosure would jeopardize a public interest or threaten the rights of an individual, you should bend over backwards to help the public monitor your work and the decisions you make on their behalf.
  • Transparency is communication. Like any relationship, the relationship you have with the public requires good communication. Being transparent to the public is the local government’s way of fulfilling that equation.

Note: Communication goes two ways. While community members need to hear what their local government is doing, the local government also needs to hear about community members’ needs and opinions. Representational government works best when representatives listen to the people they’re representing.

  • More is more. If residents don’t want to know, they won’t investigate. Over-communicating with them is much better than them complaining that you didn’t give them sufficient opportunities to be involved in their local government.
  • It’s the law. In many instances, public transparency measures are required by state law. So you really don’t have a choice but to inform the public if you want to stay on the good side of the powers that be. 

6 Practical Ways To Make Your Local Government More Transparent

Striving for greater transparency in your local government doesn’t have to be hard. Here are a few easy and practical ways to improve your community (not to mention your chance at re-election):

1. Never miss a public notice. One area where state law requires municipalities to let the public know what they’re up to is for public hearings and meetings. In addition to state requirements, your local ordinances may impose noticing requirements. You can go the extra mile to increase transparency by providing notice at other appropriate times, even when you aren’t required to by law. 

2. Follow GRAMA. The Government Records Access Management Act requires municipalities to provide public documents to the public upon request. You can increase the transparency of your administration by not only keeping records and delivering them, but by speeding up the delivery time and making the request process as straightforward as possible. Make it easy (because you’re not trying to make it hard).

3. Comply with OMPA. The Open and Public Meetings Act requires locally elected officials to receive annual training on how to keep their dealings out of the dark and make open meetings accessible to the public. You can go above and beyond by taking the training seriously, learning more on your own, and keeping good records of meetings (minutes do have a purpose after all). 

4. Update your website. Municipalities are often understaffed, and one of the first tasks to fall by the wayside is the official website. Since the municipality’s website is the public’s first and easiest access point with their local government, you can drastically increase transparency just by making the website user-friendly and keeping it updated with important information.

5. Use civiclinQ to host your code. Inserting our shameless, self-plug here.  People can’t be expected to approve of (or follow) the ordinances that the administration enacts if they can’t easily find the law.  Online ordinance hosting providers (such as those trying to be as good as civiclinQ.com) are powerful platforms that can be leveraged to provide adopted policies, plans, studies, and more in a format that is more accessible and that makes people actually want to go find information and learn more about your community, rather than bury their head in the sand.  These types of platforms do magical things to increase not only transparency, but also the efficiency of local government, as staff benefits from transparency, search functionality, and more.

6. Embrace virtual meetings. Video conference software has made it easier than ever for members of the community to attend public meetings—all you have to do is set up a computer. If you don’t already, offer a videoconference option at your public meetings. You can be even more transparent by putting a recording of the meetings/hearings online for people who couldn’t make it. 

If Your Code Is Such A Mess You Don’t Even Know What It Says

Then it might be time to call a professional and find the easiest path to cleaning it up. The public will thank you later. Or they won’t. At least you’ll have earned it.

Call Rural Community Consultants today to get expert planning and ordinance advice to make your community the best it can be. 

Want To Learn More?

Check out our online training modules! Note: We are able to provide access to specific training modules free of charge, courtesy of the Utah Office of the Property Rights Ombudsman.

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