Good governance requires transparency (Valles)

Another columnist [Pat Orr] in the Review made the following argument in a recent column: “A Town Council sets policy. Period, end of statement. They do not report to the public on financial matters.”

He also criticized those of us advocating for transparency with respect to town finances, calling it a “favorite and abused buzzword lately.” He followed all of this up by writing that while the public has every right to ask members of the Council questions, that they shouldn’t expect “specific detailed answers” from the Council because that “task belongs to full-time professional staff.”

Say what?

Call me old-fashioned but I still believe that the buck stops with the Town Council and that their job goes beyond simply setting policy and delegating public inquiries to staff.

Anyone who has been paying attention to local politics knows that before returning to Apple Valley, where I was born and raised, I was elected to the Victorville City Council. And they will also know that I fought to expose corruption by always advocating for greater government transparency and accountability.

It got me into a lot of trouble and controversy because I didn’t play nice with the “Good Old Boys.” I don’t believe there is such a thing as “too much transparency.” My philosophy is a very simple one: The voters and taxpayers are the bosses. Our elected officials are entrusted by the voters to work on their behalf and do what is best for the people they serve. They are “hired” with our votes to carry out this all-encompassing responsibility.

Are we really to believe that Apple Valley is engaged in some top-secret, CIA-esque clandestine operations where too much transparency will hurt the people of this town? This is absurd and preposterous.

Transparency is needed to ensure accountability. You ever notice how often the same elected officials and bureaucrats that bemoan the lack of civic participation and apathy on the part of the voters are the same ones that seek to keep the people in the dark by withholding information?

If we assume that the only job of the Town Council is to set policy, then who tells the Council what policies to set? The answer is obviously the voters. However, if voters are kept in the dark because their government isn’t transparent, then how can they possibly provide guidance and direction about these desired policies when they do not have access to information?

A few columns back, I reported that the top 30 highest paid Apple Valley employees cost you, the taxpayer, nearly $5 million a year. And I reported that $1.5 million is doled out to just the town manager and his four assistant managers.

Personally, I find this offensive and excessive in a town where the average household income is around $50,000 a year. However, if salaries for public employees were not disclosed to the public, I would have no idea and no ability to inform my elected officials about my opinions on the matter.

If there is one thing that drives me up the wall it is the condescending nature that comes with lecturing the public about how transparency is overrated and how the voters (i.e. children) just need to sit down, be quiet and let the adults talk. We, the people, are not children incapable of grasping the manufactured complexities of government. In fact, we are quite skilled and adept at sniffing out the horse manure if you will actually let us into the corral.

I don’t vote for staffers and bureaucrats. I vote for my elected officials. And while I understand that in some areas where the information can be complex and detailed that it is best to have subject matter experts communicate some of the finer points to the public instead of elected officials, let’s be very clear about something: When it comes to city finances and the budget, every elected official should be capable of explaining where our dollars are going.

It is beyond ridiculous to run for office claiming that the “buck stops here” if you don’t even know where the bucks are. And that, my dear reader, is the rub.

Barriers to transparency in government almost always revolve in some way around the dollars and cents of your money. Our government wants to keep you in the dark about how it spends your money and you should be extremely skeptical of anyone who suggests that your desire for greater transparency is misplaced.

Transparency is the gateway to good governance. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. Stay strong people and demand what is yours!

If you have suggestions on subjects or comments please contact me at AngelaValles411 at gmail.com.

Source: Daily Press