Last week, the Financial Transparency Working Group organized by Gov. Mark Gordon and Auditor Kristi Racines gathered in Cheyenne for one of its very first meetings. Those at the table stressed the need for open communication and set goals for the group.
“The point of it is these are people who are committed and want to drive the agenda. This has been one of (Racines’) main points; this has been one of my main points,” Gordon said. “You’re going to see things come out of this group. It’s a process.”
As a member of that working group, I was encouraged by the general tenor and want to do better.
But while Gordon stressed patience and indicated that change will be slow and sometimes hard, bills were moving through the Wyoming Legislature that will hinder transparency in our state.
For example, House Bill 146 would remove the names of elected officials and public employees from required salary publications — effectively creating the same level of transparency over city and county salaries as presently exists for school district salaries. Publishing salaries in newspapers helps control the growth of government and rein in costs.
Another piece of legislation, House Bill 201, seeks to allow cities and counties to publish public notices on their own websites instead of in a local newspaper. It also would allow them to forego the responsibility of declaring an “official newspaper” so constituents know where notices can be easily found throughout the year. Put aside the fact that local government websites are rarely used by citizens and that the task will likely cost municipalities and counties more money than they currently spend on legal notices, and the bill still stinks.
Local government websites tend to be inconsistent and without a third-party record of documents, just one bad actor could alter a document and cover up or even commit crimes. While we all like to believe corruption doesn’t exist, history has proven otherwise.
A third bill creates new records within a school safety bill and immediately creates for an exemption for them under public record law. When asked, the sponsoring legislator couldn’t say why.
None of the above mentioned pieces of legislation support the push for transparency so many legislators advocated for in the last year. In fact, they undermine the efforts to create additional oversight in the state.
Our legislators should seek to empower the public with the information they need to be part of the solution to Wyoming’s budget woes. The same applies to organizations like the Wyoming Association of Municipalities and Wyoming County Commissioners Association, which as far as I am aware, did not send any representatives to the transparency working group meeting.
One can only hope that soon, the state and its actors will begin thinking of ways to become more transparent rather than further hide the actions and spending of the government from its citizens.