By Debora Goldstein, candidate
Third Taxing District Commission (East Norwalk)
NORWALK — When I was a kid, we had a saying when someone stood in front of the television set — “You’re not made of glass” — the point being that glass is transparent and allows one to see.
During this election season, there has been a great deal of discussion about transparency with regards to Norwalk’s operations. Whether it was the roll-out of the new yard waste and holiday garbage pickup schedules, the driving range proposal at Oak Hills, communicating a lock-down at an elementary school or the process by which a special permit is approved, there appears to be a very large disconnect between what the public should (or would like to) know and what they are receiving. Similarly, there is a mismatch between the city’s idea of how well it gets the word out and what the public is hearing.
So, what is transparency? Everyone claims the want it and the City insists it provides it. Are we all talking about the same thing? We can simplify the discussion by referring to the age-old stand-by of journalism. Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Who? Anyone operating on behalf of the people as an elected or appointed official and spending public funds should adopt the habit of being transparent. Not only is it “best practice,” but it is more or less the law under Freedom of Information.
What? Decisions that impact people, either by commission or omission, along with the information used to make those decisions need to be disclosed promptly. Special outreach to any group of people that will be affected should be made. The public often does not know what it does not know. Don’t make them come to you to figure it out.
When? Before. During. And After. Post agendas of public meetings and make them available to anybody who asks, in as simple a manner as possible. Make sure decision-makers are getting everything they need to make a good decision in plenty of time to review it. Make those materials and minutes of meetings available ASAP (and make sure they are accurate). If there are people that will be affected, don’t wait for them to figure it out themselves — reach out ahead of time and tell them what those votes mean to them. And don’t just share the good stuff — help people understand losses or inconvenient changes, so they can plan ahead. In an emergency, get the word out and go where the people are getting their information.
Where? Everywhere. Email, Twitter, reverse 911 calls, newspapers, phone trees — get creative. Don’t assume any one channel will do the trick. Some things are not appropriate for complicated ideas or instructions, and should only be used to direct people to better sources.
Why? What government does is important, and it matters. People have things competing for their attention all of the time, and they need the folks that represent them to bring the important stuff to their attention.
Practicing transparency is responsible governing and is far more efficient, effective and inexpensive than expecting thousands of people to figure things out for themselves. So, when it comes to governing, we must insist our elected officials be “made of glass.”