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Confronting the Erosion of Trust

Marla Ailor-Vice-President


So, I admit it. I actually laughed out loud when I heard the President of Westfield’s Redevelopment Commission say in Wednesday’s night meeting, “Even though, let’s say we got sloppy with the paperwork and all the rest of that…I’ve operated with the philosophy that I’ve worked with these people for 20 years and I trust them.” (To hear or read the remarks in context read Kurt Christian’s article in IBJ or listen to them online.) Elected officials earn the approval of voters to perform the duties of their desired office, but trust must be earned. That doesn’t excuse them from being transparent in sharing requested and public information which is necessary to maintain that trust. And sloppy work should never be excused or overlooked when taxpayer dollars are involved.

The Framers of the Constitution purposefully divided the powers and responsibilities of the federal government, separating powers into three branches creating a limited government to guard against absolute power vested in any one branch. This structure applies to the state government, as well, and the reality of limited government carries down to the local levels also. They all are to represent and serve the needs of We, the People, who elected them.

Having just written a recent blog post on oversight, I’m left shaking my head, when I hear remarks like those made in Wednesday night’s RDC meeting. The world of public administration is different from the business world because taxpayer money is at stake and a whole lot of it! It’s all about public sector versus the private sector finance and why fiscal conservatives, like me, are often left clamoring for transparency and accountability. You see, the framers were really smart men (admittedly an understatement). They understood that conducting the public’s business should always be done in public. That’s why Open-Door Law exists; why the public can (and should) make public document requests and receive what they’ve asked for; why oversight and auditing should always be conducted; why fiscal bodies/legislatures are a part of that system; and why men and women who are appointed or elected to hold office shouldn’t get a pass by using phrases like, “trust me” or “trust him.”

The framers understood that power corrupts. They had already seen enough tyranny, which is why they came to America, and wanted something different from the government they were constructing. Is it really so bad to call out bad governance or ask that our elected and appointed officials be accountable for their decisions and actions? Humans do make honest mistakes and should be ready to admit them but covering them up makes one feel they were not mistakes at all. Not every question is an accusation, but simply a statement that says, “Just show me where, when, why, and how this happened?” Sometimes officials disagree with one another, and sometimes the people disagree with their elected officials, but it’s their job to represent us. After all, they represent “We, the People.” The government is supposed to be a bottoms-up enterprise rather than one working from the top down. Perhaps, we need to remind them and ourselves of that little nugget of wisdom more frequently.

In government, transactions, budgets, contracts etc. are memorialized on paper and should be available for any member of the public to scrutinize, without question (unless considered confidential information), but it requires that more people pay attention. It’s understood that I (or we) am often seen as a “squeaky wheel” but shouldn’t a government that has nothing to hide, hide nothing?

The Fiscal Conservatives of Hamilton County is a watchdog organization in Hamilton County, Indiana residents who are volunteers focused on fiscal policy and fiscal issues. It is free of outside control by any individual, organization or group. It exists to distribute opinions on issues affecting Hamilton County residents. Opinions expressed in signed articles do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the FCoHC or its board members.

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