Special Project: Contract with the Community
We shouldn’t have to wait for our politicians to give us a more open, honest and accountable form of local government.
A special project by Contributor John Guevara, with Managing Editor Shane Nicholson
[dropcap]The[/dropcap] Spring primary season is over. Two major area projects are clouded in funding questions. The threat of higher property taxes looms overhead. Campaign promises are being made as backroom deals are closed with a wink and a handshake. People trust government less and less. More flee Illinois each and every hour – not month, not year, but yes, every hour. How do we stop the cycle of using power to confer privilege?
The answer is simple: government reformation – not from candidates or political parties but from the people. If we hold every government official – elected or appointed, Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal – accountable for then our communities, our states, and even our country might change for the better.
In an increasingly polarized world, it is hard to believe people can agree politically. But it’s important to remember two points.
First, the things that unite us are far greater than the things that divide us. As wide as we think the chasm is between ourselves and those who disagree with us, we are all people. We all live in the greatest country in the world. We can find ways to work together. We don’t have to be enemies.
Second, it is okay to agree to disagree; 300 million people cannot possibly see eye to eye all the time, and neither can the 300,000 or so people in Rockford and its neighboring communities. But disagreement does not make us enemies. So long as we listen and try to understand each other, we’ll be on the right track.
There are 10 points below. Consider them a Contract with the Community. Consider them our offer for a better tomorrow for our community. Consider them, and discuss them, and let us know if we can make them better.
Our mission will be to examine and discuss each point in the coming weeks, in these pages and with your elected and appointed officials. Every candidate for office should be able and willing to sign a similar contract with the community, pledging to pursue all 10 points. Every appointee for public office should sign the contract before their appointment is officially made.
Every party and every candidate will have their own interpretation of what the points mean, but if they sign the contract, they will be pledging to explain how they will specifically abide by it. The contract will serve as a measuring stick for people to hold them accountable.
“The best way to prove the clearness of our mind,” wrote the English poet Alexander Pope, “is by showing its faults; as when a stream discovers the dirt at the bottom, it convinces us of the transparency and purity of the water.” Only by embracing truly open and transparent government can our community discover the path to growth and prosperity.
So let’s start a community conversation about reforming government. Let’s try to find a path to trusting government by arming ourselves with the tools needed to hold public officials accountable. Engagement is more than simply showing up at the polls; it is holding to task those persons in office day after day. The success of representative government rests on more than the quality of the representatives – it also rests on the quality of the represented.
Contract with the Community
- Transform government processes. There is too much opportunity for public officials to acquire power and use it to allocate privilege. Transforming the process exposes the back rooms to the light of day. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. Open government is the right of the people.
- Transparent budgeting. Budget processes should be well documented and easily accessible. Budget discussions should be comprehensive. Everything should be published openly, well in advance of any vote, for the public to digest.
- Reasonable tax burden. Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society. Make sure the burden is not beyond what people can bear.
- Maximize efficiency. Government should always err on the side of saving tax dollars by improving performance, increasing labor output and automating processes to save labor costs. A better system delivers better service for taxpayers.
- Grow the local economy. Any initiative to spur economic growth should be well researched, planned, and openly discussed with information readily available to the public throughout the entire process. The public should know of any risks to raise taxes.
- Safer streets. Understand the needs of the police force and the needs of the community. Tax dollars are not the only answer. Law enforcement must continue to partner with the community (churches, religious institutions, etc; neighborhood associations; community centers; etc.) to identify and mitigate risk factors.
- End culture of corruption. People trust a government that is open and honest. Pass resolutions opposing nepotism and cronyism. Define positions in local ordinance or state statute and publish the qualifications. Ensure politicians are abiding by all campaign laws and regulations. Publish labor contracts upon approval and make them easily available to the public.
- Improve student outcomes. Improve graduation rates. Improve the quality of the graduate. Identify areas where respective public bodies can partner with other public bodies and with the community to improve outcomes.
- Increase community health. Improved health means better quality lives, with less tax costs and more tax revenues. Identify the areas where the respective public body can partner with other public bodies and with the community to improve outcomes.
- Adopt best practices when available and blaze new trails where no best practices are found. Sometimes other governments get it right. Mirror what they do well. When there isn’t a model to follow, make your own.
What would you change about our proposal? Email us at email@example.com.