Transparency Q&A

Q: Transparency has been a major theme addressed by our current council over the past several years. How would you rate the transparency of our local government? How would you improve it?

A: When I think of “Transparency,” I think of the openness, accessibility, and clarity with which the activities, decisions, processes, and information of the VWP Council are made available to the public. I would give the current council a solid 9 out of 10.

The VWP Council has done a lot over the years to improve transparency and here is a rundown of what is working:

  1. Access to Information: Residents have the right to access information about the Village activities, policies, budgets, and decisions. This includes making documents, records, livestreams, meeting recordings, and meeting minutes available to the public.
  2. Open Meetings: Village regular meetings, work sessions, public hearings, and special meetings are open to the public. Meeting schedules, agendas, and minutes are published in advance so that residents can attend or review them.
  3. Public Participation: Transparency encourages citizen engagement. The VWP Council does provide opportunities for public input and feedback on important issues, projects, and policies. Residents can attend meetings and speak during “public comments” as well as submit a letter for the Town Clerk to read during the meeting. All sessions are live-streamed and can be viewed from home. There is a citizen feedback mechanism in the use of the annual survey.
  4. Financial Transparency: The Village discloses its financial information, including budgets, expenditures, and audits, in a clear and understandable manner using charts and visual representations.
  5. Ethical Conduct: Transparency includes maintaining high ethical standards among the Village Council and Village staff. Clear codes of conduct and conflict-of-interest policies are in place.
  6. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): Residents have the right to request and receive government documents and information.
  7. Technology and Online Presence: The Village has an official website and Facebook page that provides information to the public. Residents can also sign up for eNotifications.
  8. Compliance with Laws and Regulations: As far as I know, the Village adheres to all relevant laws and regulations regarding transparency and open government practices.

Transparency in local government is about ensuring that residents have the information they need to understand and participate in the democratic process. It helps build trust between the government and the community, fosters accountability, and allows citizens to make informed decisions about their local decision-makers.

There is room for improvement, however. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Enhance Online Presence:
    • Lacks “accessible” options for a diverse audience, including those with disabilities. Adding assistive technology would help.
    • Make the website more user-friendly.  I submitted a punch list of items that would help the end-user experience, so we’ll get there, but I can see how many would think the website isn’t intuitive enough to navigate.
    • Add eNewsletters as an option and residents can choose what information they’d like to receive (segmentation).
  • Transparency is closely linked to accountability and I would favor amending the Village charter to include recalls, initiatives, and referendums.
  • Public Engagement Events such as regular town hall meetings, forums, or workshops to discuss policies, ordinances, and projects.
    • Provide opportunities for residents to ask questions and provide input because even though residents have a chance to speak at a public hearing, many times the residents don’t understand how a change in the ordinance will affect them and only notice after they get a warning or citation.
    • Council meetings or work sessions are sometimes not the right venue for back-and-forth questions.