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Candland: We Have a Long Way to go Until we Achieve Transparent Government

By PETER CANDLAND
Prince William County
Gainesville District Supervisor
January 20, 2014 10:00 am

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At the beginning of each year, the Board of County Supervisors reviews its own Rules of Procedures. During our meeting on January 14, I proposed a set of amendments to the Board’s rules that would make our government more transparent and accessible to everyone. These amendments were fairly simple, but essential to improve how our county government runs.

My first proposal sought to move the votes on important issues to our evening sessions. By doing so, it would make it easier for citizens to stay informed and speak out on a particular issue. With two-thirds of Prince William residents commuting out of the county to work, it has become extremely difficult for anyone to attend or even watch broadcasts of our afternoon sessions. I felt it was imperative that we increase meeting access for everyone.

Secondly, I proposed reforms that would give citizens more of a voice in our decision-making process. These changes included increasing the time for citizens to speak from 30 to 45 minutes, and creating an online comments section for citizens to provide their feedback on agenda items that have come before the Board.

Thirdly, I introduced three key amendments that would change the way the Board votes on resolutions. Specifically, my reforms would have required that all resolutions, with supporting information, be placed online for the public to review when the Board’s agenda is published. The Board would not be able to vote on any resolution unless the public had sufficient time to see the information that we were considering.

And finally, I proposed that we add a provision in which we cannot break our own rules without a two-thirds majority vote.

As you can see, each one of these amendments was meant to increase citizen participation, improve access to Prince William County government, and hold politicians more accountable.

Unfortunately, the majority of the Board voted down these reforms. I would like to thank Supervisor Caddigan for demonstrating her commitment to increased transparency as the lone supporter of all of these resolutions.

In my two years as a County Supervisor, I have witnessed resolutions that get introduced and voted on in a matter of minutes with zero public review. I have personally witnessed millions of taxpayer dollars get spent outside of the formal budget process with little discussion by the Board, let alone input from the citizens who pay the taxes. I’ve had to learn about proposals for Board consideration from the newspaper instead of finding them within the meeting materials.

Simply put, it’s time to usher our county government out from behind closed doors and start shedding more light on how our government works. We owe it to every taxpayer to become as transparent as possible.

In my opinion, the most disappointing part of the meeting was how it ended. Without any prior notice given to the Board or to the public, another Supervisor passed out a set of amendments and called for a vote. A vote was quickly pushed through on these amendments, never giving the public any time to comment or review. This process was clearly against our own rules of procedures.

This final action by the Board showed me that we have a long way to go until we achieve a truly transparent government, but I make the same pledge now that I did during my campaign: I will not back down, and I will continue to fight to make our county government more accessible and our leaders more accountable. That is my solemn promise to every citizen of Prince William County.

 

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