Advocate Editorial Board opinion: Transparency is vital to earn public trust
By the Advocate Editorial Board
March 18, 2014 at 5 p.m.
Updated March 17, 2014 at 10:18 p.m.
Transparency is an essential quality for any level of government. From the U.S. Legislature down to local city councils, people need to be able to know what their elected representatives are doing and how decisions are being made.
Victoria County is making a step forward in this area. On March 10, the commissioners court voted in favor of using a new software to broadcast public meetings, such as the weekly Monday morning meetings, live on the Victoria County website. The move will do away with long-form, typed minutes, and the recording will become the official record.
We applaud the commissioners court for taking this much-needed step to increase transparency and availability of information to the public. The Victoria City Council has been using this method for a while, and it is a useful tool for those who are not able to attend meetings in person. When the controversy over the May 2013 City Council election results erupted into a controversy in the middle of a special meeting, residents were able to go to the city's website and watch the full meeting and controversy as it played out. We hope such an incident or any other major controversy never develops at the county level, but if it does, we are glad to know that residents will be able to review the footage and see how their elected officials are behaving in their positions.
Some of the commissioners have expressed concerns that human error could result in the broadcasting of meetings that are meant to be held in closed session. We understand this concern, but there are simple steps that can be taken to ensure this does not happen. The simplest solution is for commissioners to have a separate meeting space specifically for closed sessions that does not have a camera or any other broadcasting equipment installed in the room. When it is time for closed session discussions, the commissioners court can simply step into the private meeting room and hold their discussion with total confidence that the discussion will not accidentally be broadcast.
The commissioners court makes decisions every week that can have a profound effect on our daily lives. It is essential that we, the taxpayers, know we can trust the decisions being made. Offering an online broadcast of meetings with a recording posted afterward is a step in the right direction, and we are grateful for this decision and the openness it implies. As journalists, we appreciate the value of this access, and we hope residents will use this service well.
This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.