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Another View: Let’s build more transparency into city government

By: Bill Kirand Kevin Hanley Auburn city councilmen
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High-performance organizations, whether in the private or public sectors, are transparent in their activities, conduct continuous quality improvement and are accountable for their actions. On the Auburn City Council, it’s our responsibility to enact policies and work with our city manager to ensure that city employees provide a high level of services to residents. In this effort, we are also blessed to have dedicated volunteers who assist our police and fire departments or who serve on various boards and commissions. These volunteers are a key element in Auburn’s success. We can never be satisfied with the status quo. City leaders must constantly review where we can make improvements. In particular, Mayor Mike Holmes recognized that it was time to conduct a thorough review of how our volunteer boards and commissions operate. Each of these entities was created in isolation over time and not enough thought has been given to how we can ensure that council members, city staff and volunteers are all working to achieve common goals. A new look was called for. Mayor Holmes asked us to conduct a review and make recommendations to the city council. Based on reviewing the ordinances and resolutions that created 14 boards, committees and commissions, attending meetings and interviewing some of the volunteers who serve on these entities, we submitted a six-page report that contains a number of recommendations for management improvement. Overall, we believe that by refining the missions and duties of the volunteer-led entities and creating a better two-way communication flow, we can improve city policies on behalf of residents. We submitted our report and recommendations to the city council at our Oct. 26 meeting. Here’s a brief description of our recommendations to increase transparency and accountability. Let’s take each of the governing charters of these entities out of the city clerk’s file cabinet and put them online on the city’s Web site for every resident to see. Each of the governing charters should be in a resolution (as opposed to an ordinance) so that the entities’ purpose and composition can be changed to reflect the needs of residents. Let’s give every volunteer a one-page summary of their legal obligations regarding open meetings, public notice and conflict-of-interest laws. Every resident should be able to attend board and commission meetings if they want or read the minutes of the previous meetings online on the city’s Web site. Let’s clarify in each of the entity’s governing charters that they serve in an advisory capacity to the city council and ensure that the city council is giving each entity clear direction on how to proceed in the future. Let’s invigorate leadership capacity by ensuring that the chairmanship of each entity is rotated once a year. We can also develop more synergy by having each entity report to the city council on their upcoming plans for the year each May and give the city council a mid-year status update each January. Each of their plans should be placed in one document for all residents to review and comment on. Finally, we need to do a better job in formally and publicly recognizing the great work that our volunteers do. At the Oct. 26 meeting, council members Keith Nesbitt and Bridget Powers made good suggestions on how to accomplish this goal. Kevin Hanley and Dr. Bill Kirby serve on the Auburn City Council.