Dave Kendall: Transparent government is vital

5:22 PM, Apr. 16, 2013  |  Comments

Eat your vegetables, make your bed and don't forget to brush your teeth. When we were kids, parents told us what to do all the time. When we rebelled, they told us they were doing it for our own good. There was no room for debate. As adults, we're often told to question things and try to compromise when we reach impasses on issues. Not so much in Appleton.

Taxpayers have a right to know what's going on and what public workers' intentions are toward public matters. Period - no exceptions.

What right do they have to shun those who either elected them or hired them to do a job that's supposed to be transparent to those that they serve?

I know the phrase "you work for us because we pay your salary through taxes" is getting kind of old, but darn it, it's true.

If you don't like the media asking you questions from time to time or being scrutinized by the citizens you're supposed to be helping, you shouldn't have taken the job in the first place. If you know deep down that something that will affect the majority of your constituents might draw some objections, isn't it better to open a dialogue before taking an action, rather than do something and then defend it later.

If you fail to disclose a potential issue, you're either oblivious or ignorant of public opinion or your parental attitude of knowing what's best for the public screams a lack of respect for those who are recipients of your closed-minded directives.

There's this nifty little nonprofit organization that monitors stuff like this and can be found at sunshinereview.org. It keeps tabs on the transparency of government in all 50 states and also includes reviews of all counties and larger cities within each state, giving them a letter grade based on several criteria inherent in government. This is based on public and government interactions as well as the ease of attaining documents.

If your child came home from school with a D grade, you would be concerned. You would likely first start questioning your child and then investigate the school program to see what was going wrong and try to rectify the problem.

Milwaukee, with all of its size and bureaucracy, is rated an A-minus for government transparency. Did you know that Appleton is rated a D?

That's not something to be proud of but there it is, an unbiased, well-researched assessment. It makes you wonder if it's some form of incompetence or just plain arrogance. This is an overall grade that represents many categories but it demonstrates a pervasive attitude.

So what prompted this diatribe on local government? I take issue with how the city of Appleton went about shoving those large bright-blue recycling bins down our throat.

If I were the one in charge of such things, I would have had listening sessions at area schools, seeking input. Especially when the decision was made for one-size-fits-all and bright blue, knowing that many of these bins would be forced to sit out in the open 24-7.

Bright blue? Did anyone other than possibly the city assessor ever hear the phrase "curb appeal"? I did a simple Google search and within seconds came up with city recycle bins in colors like brown, green and tan. You know, colors of nature that still differentiate from the current black garbage bin.

Speaking of garbage bins, how come they offer size options with those but not for the recycle bin? The fact that so many are parked in front yards is testament to the fact that people have no place to go with these things.

Here's my assessment of how the city of Appleton handled this matter. You blew it. No grade or name-calling - you simply circumvented the folks who vote, pay taxes and have to deal with this eyesore that, ironically, is attached to helping the environment.

Unfortunately, we can't recycle what's already done. A lesson for Appleton officials for the future - strive for a better transparency grade by treating taxpayers like adults. At the very least, invite some public feedback before signing deals that affect so many.

In case you're wondering, that A-minus city of Milwaukee has gray bins that are offered in two sizes.

- Dave Kendall is an Appleton resident and a Post-Crescent Community Columnist. He can be reached at pcletters@postcrescent.com

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