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Josh Bergeron: How does transparency measure up?

In case you missed it, the town of Landis has continued to post a laundry list of documents online about its finances and operations.

The town created a transparency tab on its website as a public repository for responses to records requests shortly after a state embezzlement investigation began. Now, citizens can find audits; meeting minutes; budget documents; personnel records for six employees, including former Town Manager Reed Linn and Finance Officer Ginger Gibson; the town’s personnel policy; an employee salary list; and correspondence with the N.C. Local Government Commission.

While there have been errors spotted or questions raised about some documents, the creation of the section of the website and its continued updates are steps in the right direction for a town that’s faced ample complaints about transparency of late.

But what about the rest of our government entities?

At a minimum, county government, the school board and municipalities, should post online town board agendas, meeting minutes and budgets or audits.

I’ve never had any trouble requesting budgets, audits, meeting agendas or minutes from local government entities, but there’s no downside to posting those documents online for easy access by members of the public.

Rowan County government for years has maintained a transparency section of its website and certainly checks the boxes for all three minimum items.

Budgets and audits dating back to 2008 are available under Rowan County’s transparency tab.

And, while not located under the transparency tab, meeting minutes and agendas can be found easily in a section of the website for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. What’s more, the county also publishes full videos of meetings online.

The Rowan-Salisbury School Board also posts meeting agenda, minutes and videos that are easy enough to find on the website. And, like Rowan County, discussion items on the agenda are often accompanied by background information, making it easy to read about what will be discussed before, during or after meetings.

Audits dating back to 2013 are posted online under the Finance Department’s section of the website, but I have been unable to find current or past budgets online for the school system.

Salisbury also has the basics covered — meeting minutes, agendas, budgets and audits. In fact, the city of Salisbury has budgets and audits posted online dating back to 1997.

It also posts meeting videos online. You’ll find meeting minutes and agendas under a page on the website for the Salisbury City Council and budgets and audits under the Financial and Business Services page.

Kannapolis uses the same interface as county commissioners for posting meeting agendas. However, meeting minutes don’t appear to be posted online.

The city has budgets and audits posted online, but for a city of its size it could do better. You’ll need to search through past meeting agendas to find budget documents for the current year or be satisfied with the budget ordinance, which only provides a broad overview of spending. The “current budget” link on the Finance Department’s page directs visitors to the 2017-2018 budget. Similarly, an “audit and budget” subsection does not link to the Fiscal Year 2019 budget.

Smaller municipalities in Rowan County are a mixed bag, with some checking all the boxes and others not posting much at all online.

China Grove meets the basic transparency criteria.

Cleveland does not post the documents we’re seeking on its website. However, it posts announcements, including when the town board is going to meet, on its website.

East Spencer meets the three criteria, sort of. The town’s website appears to include meeting minutes and agendas dating back years, but trying to access them brings up an error message. There are some budgets and audits posted, but the latest financial document available is the 2016-2017 budget ordinance.

The town of Faith has not posted minutes, agendas or financial documents online.

Granite Quarry meets the basic transparency criteria. Though, it does not have an archive of previous year budgets or audits.

Rockwell does not meet the transparency criteria.

Last among our municipalities alphabetically is Spencer, which meets the transparency criteria.

Local governments in Rowan County and elsewhere should not see transparency as a burden. Instead, posting basic documents online should  be seen as  an opportunity to provide citizens with valuable information about their government.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post. Email him at josh.bergeron@salisburypost.com.



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