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Ripping back the veil

NLJ Staff

Government transparency is something we are passionate about at the News Letter Journal. We fight for your right, as citizens, to know as much as possible about government meetings and actions. We admit that on occasion we may appear aggressive in this battle to make sure that you, the people, know what your government is doing, but that fighting spirit comes from our desire that your government truly works for you,
the people.
At all times.
In recent months, we have shared with you numerous transparency failures on the part of various local
government agencies and public entities. Some members of those organizations  react by claiming our drive to improve transparency is simply cruel or even rude, but others accept our aggressive defense of the public’s right to know for what it is, and make necessary adjustments to serve you better.
We are very pleased to report that Newcastle’s city
government, led by specific examples of better
transparency from Councilman Tyrel Owens and Clerk-Treasurer Stacy Haggerty, have chosen the latter path after the newspaper questioned the city council’s
commitment to open government. Their actions have been supported by other city leaders, who have also made adjustments and shown a desire to increase transparency in city government in various ways. 
A simple look at the council’s agenda or minutes will reveal the changes implemented by Haggerty since an NLJ editorial asked for more information to be provided to the public through those documents. 
The agenda in particular is more detailed, and includes specific items that department heads will address in the meeting. Prior to the change, agendas just indicated that department heads would speak at the meeting, with no mention of the topics to be discussed, and we are grateful that the public can now be made aware of the subjects that will be tackled by the council. 
Haggerty has also begun to include in the agenda any action items that will be undertaken at the meeting, ordinances that will be discussed by the council, the specific purposes of scheduled executive sessions and the topics that will be introduced during standing committee reports. All of these things were nonexistent on city council meeting agendas just a few short months ago. 
The city council minutes are also more detailed and include information that often was only available through follow-up phone calls and additional questioning. Any resident can now read the minutes published in this
newspaper after each meeting, and know not only the actions the council has taken but also some of the
discussion behind those actions. 
Councilman Owens has set a great example by making it a point to communicate with Haggerty about what he plans on bringing to the board so she can include it in the agenda. There once was a time when the agenda simply listed “mayor/council member reports” or a “standing committee report,” but when Owens brings an item for discussion under these headings the specific topic of
discussion is included.
Members of the public benefit by knowing exactly what Owens plans to introduce to the council and can plan to be involved if it is a topic they are interested in. Other council members can also prepare accordingly, and the community is served better because their leaders come into meetings informed and engaged.
At a time when trust in government is very low,
transparency on the part of our leaders is more
important than ever. We are happy to report that Mayor Pam Gualtieri and the Newcastle City Council have acknowledged the urgent need for government to raise the bar on transparency and rebuild the trust their constituents need to have in the system — if the system has any hope at all of working.
Transparency is often uncomfortable, but secrecy on the part of local governments is unacceptable. We urge other decision-makers in Weston County to begin demonstrating their own commitment to being open and honest with “the people” they serve, and we thank Newcastle’s leaders for taking obvious and visible steps to correct a problem that exists on far too many boards in Weston County.
We sincerely hope others will follow the example.

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