Transparent Sea Cliff

Back in April 2017, shortly after I was sworn in as a Trustee, I shared my ideas about transparency with the Board in a letter to the other four members, much of which I’ve included below. It was my hope that we would discuss these ideas at a public board meeting.

Many of these ideas have found traction in the Technology Taskforce meetings. We are also doing a better job posting agendas to meetings. We have a ways to go to, but we have begun.

***

Transparency in government means making the process of government – how and why decisions are made – public in an open and inviting manner. One of the first steps in creating an open government is making agendas and the background supporting materials for the items on the agenda available to the public in advance of a meeting. This gives people the necessary time to prepare to participate in the meeting – even if that participation is just listening.

A corollary to this principle of having agendas and supporting materials publicly available in advance is that the materials are as objective as possible. They are spreadsheets, data analysis reports, raw budgets and the like. Persuasive materials that use only parts of the data available detract from efforts to be transparent.

When decision-making is transparent – meaning not just witnessed by the public, but that all the materials and thinking contributing to a decision are shared equally with the public – the need for metrics and data analysis increases. Procedures and processes are put into place to collect metrics to evaluate progress, efficiency and efficacy.

Metrics and data analysis open government to both strategic planning and increased resources. Measuring and analyzing outcomes provides a greater ability to plan strategically. The ability to plan strategically leads to greater control and long-term satisfaction with results.

Here is my short list of transparency tactics that would have the most impact for our Village and that could be implemented fairly quickly and easily:

  1. Agendas with context and supporting background materials (the same data that the Board uses) on the topics to be discussed at any public meeting published to the public in advance of the meeting.
  2. Video recording of all public meetings live-streamed as well as posted to Village website for asynchronous viewing and archived for 24-36 months.
  3. Redesigned website based on usability testing and designed to capture user metrics. There are many excellent examples of village / municipality website design to follow.
  4. Opt-in/out village-wide email notification of upcoming meetings, conferences, hearings, and other important dates.
  5. Use of on-line surveys to gauge public opinion to inform agenda decisions.  Results should be posted to village website and then archived according to appropriate topic.
  6. Written procedures and policies with dates, deadlines, and contingencies for all Board processes, procedures, committees, departments, organizations, and the like, posted to Village website, reviewed on a regular schedule, and updated as needed.
  7. Detailed histories of issues, events, and organizations with which the Village is involved, including all background and supporting documents, when the Board has engaged the topic, any votes or decisions relevant to the topic, posted (in an organized fashion) on the village website. This information should remain on the website and be added to when there are updates or changes to the topic (for example, the Garvies Point issue and lawsuit, the water company history and current status, etc.).
  8. Data-driven decision making: research and analysis of any issue the Board takes up organized into a report and made public. Establishment of metrics in all departments, organizations and activities to measure progress, discover efficiencies, and make decisions. (For example, for the re-assessment project: a report showing the assessed value and recent sales prices of homes with analysis of the “higher end” homes differential; case studies of the effect of applying a ratio to assessments showing what actually happens to certiorari cases in these situations; links to the county and state taxation guidelines, procedures, criteria for applying a ratio; letters or documentation of any correspondence with ORPTS regarding this issue; etc.)
  9. Establish strategic, long-term planning processes based on established metrics and models.