Though we often hate to admit it, because doing so conjures up feelings of irrelevancy and reminds us of the changing dynamics in our industry, most people don’t care about what’s going on around them.
They’re busy. They’re tired. They’re … doing 173 other things, like replaying the (often hilarious, but still time-wasting) latest viral videos on the Internet and could not care less about what their elected officials are up to.
That’s where we come in. We’re at as many government meetings as we can possibly attend because it’s our duty as watchdogs to find out where your tax dollars are being spent and make sure everyone’s following the rules.
We sit in hours-long meetings each and every week, following along with the agenda, taking notes, recording quotes, conducting post-meeting interviews and filing stories based on the information shared in said meetings.
Some groups make this difficult for us – by not providing us with agendas, for instance – while others make our jobs easier by being as open as they can be.
Atoka is one of those cities. In fact, of everyone – from municipalities, to the school board and county commission – Atoka is the most open, most efficient, most consistent, most organized of all.
Transparency has been a priority for city leaders and we think they’re providing the rest of the county with a great example.
Open government is important because it provides citizens with the tools needed to hold their leaders accountable.
Why should you care, though? Because it means they either have nothing to hide or they’re hiding it in plain sight.
If you live in Atoka, you should care that the agenda is posted online in advance of the meetings. Doing so provides you with tools for engaging with your elected officials and participating in the process.
If you live in Atoka, you should care that the budget proposals are posted online prior to being formally proposed to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen because it means you can review it and, if you have questions, you can attend the meeting and ask them.
If you live in Atoka, you should care that not only are agendas and budget proposals posted on the town’s website, but that your town administrator posts the entire meeting packet to the site, so you have every detail the aldermen have before a meeting, and you should care that that the budget proposal includes a very detailed summary, colorful graphs, charts, the line item details and even the capital replacement plan.
Why should you care? Because it means your city officials, the stewards of your tax dollars, are on top of things and they’re not keeping things from you.
This is not to say other municipalities and government bodies are keeping things from their constituents, however having the information a few keystrokes away certain helps keep citizens in the loop.
If you don’t live in Atoka, you might encourage your city and county leaders to be as open, organized and consistent as they are (Brian Koral likely already has a Powerpoint, complete with charts and graphs, on the process).
Perhaps that isn’t as important to you as “Linda, Linda, Listen!” or the bride whose newborn rode down the aisle on her wedding dress, but it should be. This is your money we’re talking about, your community, and, in essence, your future we’re talking about it; why should sharing recipes on Facebook and pinning projects you’ll never get around to doing be more important that something that directly affects you?
Kudos to you, Atoka, for setting such a good example, one we’re eager for more cities to follow.