Editorial: Sides earns Rowan an A+
Rowan County has earned an A+ for the easy access citizens have to county government information online - the top grade in the state - and Commissioner Jim Sides deserves kudos for making it happen. Other commissioners went along with making government more transparent, and county employees carried out the task. But it would not have happened without Sides' dogged determination.
The group that's putting Rowan at the head of the class is the conservative John Locke Foundation, which grades local governments in the state on the amount of public information they put on the web for all to see. Sides not only pushed for transparency locally; he contacted the foundation to point out flaws on the N.C. Transparency website itself. The man is relentless. The site had not been giving Rowan credit for all it has done.
Even if you don't agree with Sides on political issues, you have to appreciate his concern for making government as accessible as possible to the people of Rowan County. Salisbury and other local governments post budgets, audit reports and other material, but no one has gone as far as the county.
If you go to http://www.rowancountync.gov/ and click on Transparency on the left side of the page, you'll find everything from full videos of county commission meetings to the county's check register. The site includes audit reports, revenue and expense reports, employee information, contracts and more. And why not? This is the people's government and the people's information.
It is, however, a massive amount of material, and anyone hoping to consume it all may find that impossible. But the real purpose is for county government records and spending to be an open book - so you can keep an eye on government and find useful information. If you're a contractor planning to bid on a project, you can take a look at how the county has handled past contracts. If you want to hear commissioners' public discussion of the 911 agreement with the city, it's there in the meeting videos. And if a county employee has you wondering, you can find out when that person started working for the county, what the county pays for the job and how much the employee gets in vacation and benefits.
Sides, for example, receives $12,421 in salary for being a county commissioner, plus $8,040 in health insurance - the same as a full-time county employee and other commissioners, if they choose. Commissioners don't get paid much per hour for the performance of their duties, especially if they spend as much time at it as Sides. But health insurance is a generous perk.
Does the A+ in transparency make Rowan's governing body the best? Sorry, no. Openness is just one facet of county government. But it could encourage more people to become involved citizens. Instead of accepting wild speculation or political spin, they can go to the official record - if they will. Transparency in government has been called the best disinfectant. Like disinfectant, though, it doesn't work unless you use it.