May 4 2012

PCA Editorial: Expand Public Access to Budget Advisory Committee?

No Broadcast, No Recordings, No Minutes –

The City Council formed the Budget Advisory and Financial Planning Committee (BAFPC) in response to 2011 Municipal Tax Review Committee recommendations.  The BAFPC will be providing advice to the Council on five-year financial projections and expenditures of more than $250,000.  The Committee is composed of Mary Geong, Steven Hollis, Bill Hosler (Chair), Tom Lehrkind, and Tim Rood.  The Members are taking their responsibilities seriously and have met every week since being appointed. (See highlights of discussions.)  But a public eager to follow the deliberations will find it difficult.

There are no audio records, video recordings, broadcasting via KCOM or online video of the proceedings.  No minutes are being kept for future reference.  The vitally important BAFPC meetings have been shuffled off to the Police Department or City Hall Conference Room which lack video equipment.

While the City Council Chamber is the location of most City meetings and enjoys “high-tech” video capability, it sat vacant on at least one of the BAPFC meeting nights:  Tuesday, April 24.

Reasons for holding the meetings without audio or video recording, transmission or a written record were discussed by the City Council:

  • A money-saving measure which saves KCOM staff expense
  • A more collegial atmosphere afforded from sitting around a table.

With transparency raised as a concern in more than one recent controversy, limiting access to the Committee’s work seems counter to community priorities.  One news source, the Piedmont Civic Association (PCA),  has been attending and providing information to the general public via the PCA website.

City staff  did not provide 72 hour online notice of public meetings for the April 24 and May 1 meetings, although it was posted on the City Hall bulletin board.  (The City has stated it will be posting online notice in the  future.)  Without easy access to agenda items, residents cannot know what is to be discussed and, if they are unable to attend the meetings, are left with no options for listening to the proceedings.

The Committee’s work has necessarily been on a quick timetable to allow timely forecasts and recommendations to the City Council on the FY 2012-13 budget.  Its input is important in evaluating City costs and budgetary decisions.  

Given the tremendous effort by community volunteers who are giving their valuable time to serve on the Committee and provide advice to the City Council, the lack of transparency and online access presents potential problems.  Best practices of good governance would increase public access to the proceedings, providing the Budget Committee with greater opportunity to hear and consider public input.

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