Watching this year’s presidential campaign has been interesting, to say the least. There’s obviously a lot of pent-up citizen anger about “Washington” and “the Establishment.” A 2015 study by the Pew Research Center indicated only 19 percent of those surveyed indicated trust in the federal government. There was a lot of the same kind of anger about when I voted in my first presidential election back in 1972. The famous humorist Will Rogers made a career out of poking fun at Washington, even back in the 1930s. The more things change, the more they stay the same, I guess.
On the other hand, citizens generally express a high level of trust in local government. A recent Gallup study indicated a 72 percent trust rate for local government bodies. This shouldn’t be surprising. Local government organizations operate in a much more citizen-friendly manner. Local government organizations operate close to the people they serve and, consequently, promote a great deal of openness and opportunity for public engagement.
Local governments and school districts are among the most accessible of all public entities. Any citizen can attend a regularly-scheduled meeting of a local council or school board, know what’s on the agenda ahead of time through a staff person, the internet or local media, and show up and speak directly to officials, all with a minimum of inconvenience.
It might be darn near impossible to get a federal official on the phone; you’ll probably have to talk to someone pretty far down the food chain. But it’s pretty easy to contact an elected or appointed official here at home. If a citizen calls me, County Administrator Vic Carpenter, Camden City Manager Mel Pearson, County Council Chairman Julian Burns, Camden Mayor Tony Scully, Bethune Mayor Charles McCoy, Elgin Mayor Melissa Emmons or school board Chairman Ron Blackmon, that’s who the citizen will get to talk to very quickly, if not immediately. I feel very confident in saying this would be the case for just about any other elected or appointed official in our county.
Local media covers local school and government issues in much more depth than statewide or national media can begin to cover federal issues. At any council or board meeting here in Kershaw County, there are always at least two or three local reporters present who will then write or broadcast fairly detailed accounts of what happened at that meeting. (In Kershaw County, we’re blessed to have a very dedicated and professional local media presence.) Minutes of most meetings are posted quite promptly on websites, and are archived virtually forever. Try to get this same level of detail at the federal level as easily or readily. Not likely.
Transparency in finances and budgets
Finance is, generally, the area about which citizens have the most questions. It is very easy to get detailed and understandable financial information about local governments and schools districts. Yearly audit reports are presented publically and posted online. Most local public entities present monthly financial reports in open session and also post them online. Most local governments and school districts in South Carolina also post the “online checkbook” which delineates all checks issued for accounts payable and other expenses. If one wants to know where the money goes for local governments and school districts, it’s all out in the open. To get a similar level of detail from the federal government requires navigating a byzantine maze of websites and documents.
Further, budget development processes at the local level are done very much in the sunshine. One doesn’t have to search for committee meetings held in conference rooms tucked away in large office buildings in Washington or depend on national media. Here in Kershaw County, public budget meetings are held in the open with local media present in the places where meetings are normally held. In case of our school district, there are also public budget presentations out in local communities to provide additional convenience for citizens.
I believe people tend to misdirect their frustration with the federal government towards government bodies in their own communities. It’s not really fair, or valid. Local government bodies are the most accountable, accessible and transparent of all government organizations. We’re not the fed. Not even close.
I’m always pleased to talk with community members about our schools. My direct dial phone number is 425-8916 and my email is email@example.com. Citizens can also contact me through the “Ask the Super” link on the homepage of the district Website. I invite folks to read my “blog” and listen to the podcast I record after each school board meeting with meeting highlights. Both of these, and a whole lot more, can be accessed at on our award-winning website, www.kcsdschools.net. I’m also on Facebook and welcome Friend requests.