When I think of “transparency,” images of friends and family come to mind. I have a close network of people to whom I can turn for advice, guidance and venting. There are no games or hidden agendas between us, just plain, simple caring and concern molded into trusted relationships. Can the same model of “transparency” be applied to county government?
When you think about it, it is a relationship of trust between elected officials and the people who voted for them. The official has his or her job because of the trust and faith shown by the electorate. In return, the people receive services and benefits. It is a two-way relationship that develops trust, especially when “transparency” is encouraged.
I predict that 2014 will be the “Year of Transparency” for Ellis County. Not only has Ellis County been awarded the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting, we have several exciting projects in the works including:
• Providing the Commissioners Court Agenda packet of non-confidential, supporting materials online; and
• Video-streaming commissioners court meetings.
The agenda and approved minutes for each commissioners court have always been available online at Ellis County’s website: www.co.ellis.tx.us. This past Friday, my office conducted a test on a pilot project to place supporting information related to the upcoming commissioners court agenda online. Although there is no legal requirement to post these materials and many items often do not have companion information, for those that are interested in a particular matter to be considered by the court, it is an opportunity to learn more.
And, while the goal of providing the entire packet is a good one, it does come at a cost. Extra attention and man hours are required because of the potential for privacy issue violations. The county must not release privileged and confidential information. So, every document will need to be scrutinized for sensitive data; a burdensome task depending on the size of the agenda. Therefore, the cooperation and assistance of all departments and elected offices will be critical for the project to be a success.
As for the trial run, IT set it up perfectly for user-friendly public access; however, some glitches were discovered in the methods of redaction. In today’s world, everyone understands the disastrous consequences of personal or financial information getting into the wrong hands. Security being our primary concern, the kinks will be ironed out and soon non-confidential documents will be made available to the community.
Another exciting project is the video-streaming of the actual commissioner court meetings. The audio-visual system in commissioner’s court was installed in 2001 and is completely outdated for video-streaming. In the fall of 2012, my office began exploring the costs of updating the equipment. Recently, the court enthusiastically and unanimously supported Commissioner Paul Perry in pursuing the concept of video-streaming court meetings.
Although the commissioners court is eager to implement the project, just because a project like video streaming has been approved by the court, does not mean that it will be in place the next day.
Unfortunately, contracts have to be negotiated and terms approved before the idea can become reality. These procedures are in place to protect us – the taxpayers. But, they also slow down a seemingly easy process.
The video company has been selected and we are in negotiations with them. I am hopeful that the agreement will be finalized, the equipment installed and soon you will have another option to stay informed.
Ellis County has other exciting projects in the works, which I will look forward to sharing with you. For now, know that “transparency” and county government can clearly go together.
Carol Bush serves as the Ellis County County Judge.