Candidates Byrne and Gertler Cite Improved Transparency in Borough Management
Thursday, October 24, 2013 • 9:46am
MADISON – In a joint prepared statement, Democratic candidates for Madison Borough Council Maureen Byrne and Jeff Gertler cite improved transparency and consistency in borough operations.
Byrne and Gertler observe that “there has been a lot of discussion about the need for transparency in borough proceedings and finances. And we would agree.
But what does that really mean? Most observers describe transparency in government as an approach that offers citizens the ability to see through the workings of government. In this way, they know exactly what goes on when public officials transact public business. Key decisions are made in public. Our citizens can then see it, comment on it, and help set priorities for public spending and for municipal ordinances. We believe this is essential for effective government and community harmony.”
Byrne stated, “This year we have seen improved transparency in our own borough government. Instead of the key deliberations taking place in council executive sessions as they have in the past, council members are now debating important topics in public. Madison residents and other stakeholders can now see and hear them – either as they occur in the council chambers or later on line or via public access television. Opposing points of view are discussed publicly, and well thought-out decisions can be reached collaboratively.
However, those of us who have sat through borough council meetings observe that public participation often comes too late in the proceedings – after many residents have had to leave because of the lateness of hour and before their topic or opportunity comes up. This problem needs to be addressed and resolved.”
Gertler added that “to ensure transparency, council members must avoid last minute surprises in its proceedings. Council Members, the public and stakeholders need time to fully understand and consider proposals in order to provide comments and guidance in order to come to the best decision for the community. We need time for a meaningful public dialogue.
For example, anticipated reductions in the wholesale price of electricity beginning in mid 2014 should result in increased surpluses for the borough electric utility, and the development of the Green Village School property will bring new tax income. These opportunities will require some key decisions be made: Do we use the money to reduce electric rates? Or to reduce property taxes? Or do we use the money to establish the capital revenue stream needed to maintain our roads, public safety vehicles, sewers, and water supply? Or do we use it to restore services, like the library hours that had been lost due to budget cuts or a return to twice-a-week garbage collections? And if the Madison Athletic Foundation raises more money than anticipated or the Board of Education offers a larger contribution to pay for the MRC turf fields, should we reduce the Open Space tax?
These are important questions that require analysis and discussion. The public needs to understand the available options and their implications and have the opportunity to express their views and preferences. We will need a public dialogue, and we will need effective mechanisms to have that dialogue – in the near term this could happen through the borough’s proposed strategic planning effort that might well include public surveys and dedicated town meetings or their equivalent. We want to know what you’re thinking and what your concerns are, so please communicate those to us in whatever forum you are comfortable."
Byrne stated, “Acting on eleventh hour proposals and decisions without a proper public discussion can well lead to mistakes. Not many of us can forget the council meeting when a majority introduced the budget while simultaneously firing the borough administrator in public, citing it as a cost saving measure – this despite his having saved the borough many times his salary. The suggestion a few weeks later to spend $90K from the Open Space Trust Fund for a greenhouse when there is grant money available for this kind of improvement was another last minute proposal. Both demonstrated a lack of transparency and poor decision making.”
Byrne and Gertler concluded that “we commend the current council for the recent strides that they have made in bringing back a measure of transparency in borough deliberations and hopefully, we have seen the end of the eleventh hour proposal. But we are not done, we need to work harder to ensure full public participation and guidance in borough decision making. Three minute statements at council meetings are not adequate for a true public dialogue.”
As a final point, we would also like to commend the current council for returning to an atmosphere of respect for our volunteers and Borough professionals. By showing respect for and relying on our smart, capable, and experienced volunteers and employees who put time and effort into analyzing issues and offering the council options and recommendations in an open and collaborative environment, council members can make good, informed decisions that are in the best interest of all Madison citizens.”