Wednesday, 03 March 2021 12:53

OP-ED: Accountability, transparency and local government

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Too often the news is dominated by what divides us as Americans. Yet, there are values I think we all believe in. These values need to be discussed more. 

Among those values are transparency and accountability in government. When government acts, timely and accurate information about those actions should be made available without discrimination to any citizen. When we operate with transparency and accountability, we limit the probability of economic corruption while creating a culture where everyone is an active participant and not only government insiders. 

I serve in the N.C. House of Representatives in Raleigh, representing a rural eastern North Carolina district — Nash County. Recently two bills (House Bill 35 and House Bill 51) were introduced in the N.C. House that threaten these values of transparency and accountability. The bills would allow certain county governments to stop publicizing governmental and judicial notices in newspapers and online news sites and, instead, publish such information only on the county government website.

If these bills become law, it would likely result in some modest savings of taxpayer dollars. Good stewardship is always important and as a champion of small business, I support sound financial practices.  However, the cost savings is very small compared to the cost of the loss of transparency and accountability. Important notices about public hearings, tax delinquencies, and judicial actions would likely be buried on rarely visited and poorly maintained government websites. Only those in the know would know when and where to look. The result would be an increase in the very ethical challenges most of us desire to eliminate — favoritism, cronyism, nepotism, abuse and mismanagement. 

A better approach would be to leave the current law in place which requires governments to provide public notices to the widest possible audience. This ensures a level playing field. This also makes meaningful public engagement more likely and our local governments more accountable to their citizens.

Local government has a major impact on our daily lives — roads, housing, taxes, schools — with the objective to ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone. For this reason, local government needs to be open to everyone — those in trailer parks and those in gated communities, those with PHDs or GEDs. House Bills 35 and 51 post a sign on local government that reads, “Closed for Business.” If you agree, let your local state senator and representative know that legislation like House Bill 35 and House Bill 51 are bad ideas and moves us all in the wrong direction.

State Rep. James Gailliard, D-Nash, serves in the N.C. House of Representatives.