Openness of township trustees benefits taxpayers.

Transparency, when used in a social context, implies openness, communication, and accountability. It is an extension of the meaning of a “transparent” object as one that can be seen through. Transparent procedures include open meetings, financial disclosure statements, the freedom of information legislation, budgetary review, audits, etc. (definition from Wikipedia)

Why is it important that government actions and expenditures be transparent and why would you care? The issue of transparency in government has been getting more attention in Fort Wayne lately, and rightfully so.

I believe that government is the work of the people, for the people, and that the people have every right to know what is being done on their behalf. Last week the County Council conducted budget hearings for all of the property tax funded entities in Allen County (except schools, but that’s another issue). During the budget hearings we asked the Township Trustees to answer a list of basic operational questions about their office. We asked things like whether or not employees or contractors were related to the trustee and whether or not their office was in their home – and if so, how much they were paying themselves for rent.

As we started our budget reviews, the trustees were understandably cautious; their offices have historically been under the radar but have been coming under greater scrutiny in the post-Kernan Shephard days. I shared with the trustees my personal perspective on the inquiry – if they refused to answer the questions it made it look like they had something to hide. I did not enter into the conversation thinking the trustees where doing something wrong; I just wanted to understand how their offices operated. I am proud of our Allen County Trustees for stepping forward in the way they did. All but one of the Trustees that appeared before us answered the questions openly. Many of them submitted their responses in writing to be made a part of our permanent record.

For the most part, County Council found the Township Trustee offices to be well run by caring people. If a staff person was related it seemed that the salary was low enough that the Trustee may not have been able to hire someone who was not related to do the work. If their office was in their home it was because office space is scarce in many of the rural Townships. Renting from themselves was the most economical option for the taxpayers. The questions were put to rest in Allen County and we all went away understanding each other a little better.

And so, back to my original question – Why is it critical that government actions and expenditures be transparent and why would you care? The money our local government uses is generated involuntarily from citizens through property and income taxes. It’s not their money – it’s yours. I care what happens to every dollar in my wallet and I suspect you do too. I commend City Councilwoman Liz Brown in her pursuit of transparency for the City of Fort Wayne. Maybe someone needs to remind the City that if they don’t answer, it makes it look like they have something to hide.

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