I was a bit dismayed at what I have seen and heard with regards to the budget in Selma. The property owners of Selma are about to take a battering, along with our town employees. Previous Town Councils overspent by over $400,000 per year and now we are going to have to pay for it. The sad thing is that two of the reasons why we overspent were re-elected last November. Of course the blame was still put on the former town manager. I am not going into that whole topic at the moment, but the bottom line is that the elected officials are responsible for the budget approval and appropriations, just as The House of Representatives is supposed to do in Congress.
One thing that bothered me was that the budget is supposed to be open for public review for ten days prior to adoption. Not a problem there. The problem is that it is not readily available to everyone. If you want to see it, you have to go to town hall to look through it. You can not get a copy unless you want to pay 10 cents a page (a ridiculous amount and far from actual cost) to get the entire document. That is absurd. My first thought was "just put it in a .pdf file online and I will download it, instead". To my delight, there was a .pdf file on the town web site. To my dismay, the file was ONE PAGE...one freakin' page of a general summary. If you can put one solitary page online, you can put the entire overstuffed budget for all to read.
I am not much for conspiracy theories. However, when citizens can only view a copy of the budget at town hall during normal business hours or pay a fee to get a copy and no full copy is available for public review on the town's web site, I am dubious of the desire for compliance. Most people who would be interested in the budget, such as myself, work a full time job. That often precludes spending a few hours at town hall with a note pad and the budget to do reading. However, I may have time this weekend to look over a .pdf file. If the town has nothing to hide, then put the entire budget online for us to read. The town has a decent web site, and I use it often for reference. Why go through the trouble of making a single freakin' page document but not the entire budget? If you are going to do it, do it RIGHT with nothing to hide. If my property taxes are going up 11 cents per hundred dollars of value, I want to read WHY for myself. Oh, and the amount that you are going to hose me for in a higher tax and the amount you WOULD save if you eliminated our police dispatch center would more than pay for a single copy of the budget. I doubt seriously that many others have requested a copy.
Along that same train of thought, I also suggest that the entire press kit be made available to ALL citizens who wish to attend the meetings. I will donate a few reams of paper, if necessary to accommodate this. I have eight reams sitting here in my office. Would that be enough to get me a copy of all of the proclamations, agenda items, and maybe even the overbloated budget?
I really dislike the idea of the mayor, council, and manager discussing things that are supposed to be open to the public view that are kept hidden from public view. If ONLY press members get those copies (and there are always a few extras left over), then the general public does not have any idea what many items are that are being discussed except to listen.
What many other town do is to either prepare a full packet for attendees, put up a transparency for people and council members to follow, or use a computer based projection system for display. It would not be expensive to make a few transparencies for an overhead projector and allow ALL citizens to follow along. Exhibits, proposed ordinances, resolutions, and agenda items would be able to be viewed by all. This is the professional and open way of handling business. I will buy the transparency sheets for the town personally. Maybe even the projector if the town does not have one.
For that matter, I am willing to let the town use my sound board, microphones, and cassette tape duplicator to record every meeting and make copies for interested parties. This would yield a better copy than a condenser mic in the middle of the room. I can buy tapes by the case, I own a high speed duplicator, labels, and printing software. I think I own enough microphones, but can always get more. If it will make a better permanent record, then I am willing to help out. I am also willing to digitize all recordings and make them available on the internet. All that I would need is cooperation (that costs nothing monetarily).