Transparency in Practice

Would you like to know what your tax dollars are paying for? Who wouldn’t. But sometimes it’s easier said than done, even when the latest buzz word for public officials is “transparency.” Our local officials handle public information in different ways.

In the Timberlane SAU (School Administrative Unit), which includes Sandown and Hampstead, there’s a long list on its website of official documents, including an amendment to the superintendent’s contract. That gives taxpayers easy access to how the board is handling their money, from the comfort of their homes or wherever their Smartphones happen to be. Just go to the school website at www.timberlane.net and click on “committee” and then click on SAU 55 board, then click on SAU 55 Upcoming Meetings, Agendas, Meeting Minutes, Policies and Documents. When you get to documents, take your pick.

And you can even read the details of union contracts on most town and school district websites.
In Londonderry, however, this newspaper had to submit a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in order to receive a copy of the contract between the town and its new town manager, Kevin Smith. While our questions about the contract’s contents were answered verbally, an FOI request citing the State of New Hampshire’s Right-to-Know act was required for us to see the full contract,
Our request was answered promptly and professionally – we had the contract within a day of asking.

But making an FOI request for the document is a needless delay when the matter is public to begin with.
We don’t think we were singled out. If any Londonderry resident wanted to see the contract in its entirety, we expect an FOI request would be necessary. But while newspapers are comfortable making such requests, private citizens are not in the habit of doing so and could easily be intimidated by that requirement.

There is nothing weird in the contract. But it would have been easier – and more important, more transparent – to have provided it when asked.

Transparency is easy to tout but harder to practice. There are things that may be better left unsaid or embarrassing to reveal, but if they fall under the public meeting or public records statute, it is not the role of government to make it a challenge to find them. Elected and appointed officials are accountable to the public, who, after all, pays their salaries out of their tax payments.
And that’s about as transparent a reason as it gets.

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