Martino: There are at least four Thursdays in every month….

The elected members of the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens seem to be having difficulties with the issue of transparency in its governance. At least that’s my opinion after I have attended the last several Council meetings since the baseball stadium reared its ugly head late last year. The Mayor has mouthed transparency frequently sometimes with an air of frustration and sometimes a little caustically. Other Council members refer to the word as convenience presents itself but only one member with any conviction.

From my perspective, in some instances, transparency is misinterpreted, misunderstood, and simply not practiced as the law requires by the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens and its Administration. In these instances, the rights and interests of the residents of Palm Beach Gardens have been shunted aside but they deserve better. Perhaps, an attempt at understanding transparency would be appropriate and be of some value to anyone that is having difficulty with the word and how to affect its lawful application in government.

What is the definition of transparency? There are literal definitions for transparent, such as, transmitting light; able to be seen through with clarity: easily detected; seen through; obvious; readily understood; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information; and so on.

In my opinion, transparency as it should apply to the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens and all governmental entities, implies communication, openness, and accountability. Transparency in government is undisguised, understandable truth. It can be interpreted as the communication and/or sharing of information among interested parties free of deceit. A fundamental of transparency allows for all interested parties to see what and how actions are acted upon in a frank, straightforward, and open, but not secretive, manner. Openness is the opposite of secrecy. Openness is a philosophy that gives prominence to transparency by the availability of free and liberated access to knowledge, information, and decision making rather than hidden by opacity. Transparency is accountability for the protection of the necessary rights to knowledge, information, and decision making by all interested and affected parties which in the case of government would and should include the public.

If I may, as my opinion, I would like to apply some of what is discussed in the foregoing paragraph, in a political sense, to government…

1. When a government’s meetings are open to the public and its laws and decisions are communicated in open discussion with the public in attendance, then transparency is present and there is less opportunity for public officials, elected or appointed, to abuse the system. When government decisions are made in the light of darkness and communicated in secret behind closed doors without the public in attendance, representative democracy suffers, the will of the people may be abrogated, and transparency is absent.
2. Transparency is open government principled around the dogma that the public has a right to access the records, information, and proceedings of the governing body, thus, allowing for effective public oversight. Openness in government relates the concept that citizens should have the right to information held by government, and should have the right to see the operations and activities of government at work.
3. Reliable information is essential for accountability, thus, freedom of access to information is a paramount public necessitate. In politics, transparency is used as a means of holding public officials accountable, so, information is needed. Political accountability is the answerability of the government, its politicians, and its bureaucrats, to the public. The right and the means to examine the process of political decision making by the public is the essence of transparency.

As an example of my opinion, as to recent instances regarding the failure of the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens to understand and foster transparency, I offer the following…

  • A failure of the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens and its Administration is the handling of the recent baseball stadium fiasco. It was certainly an issue that the City Manager was very familiar with as he hired a public relations firm to the tune of $60,000 to sell the idea. After eighteen months of rumors, presentations, and news reports of the baseball stadium proposal floating around the Mayor and City Council surely knew about it. Yet the City Council denied any knowledge of the proposal’s reality, refusing even to acknowledge its location as their choice.
  • The recent 2015 September budget meetings exhibited many transparency issues. For example, missing from the meetings were the department heads explanations of their individual budget requests. Apparently, each Councilperson met with the department heads in private. A Council member held up the voluminous budget binder and informed the public of numerous questions the member had for the various City departments all of which were answered in private without benefit of public’s right to hear this discourse.

However, from my perspective, the most egregious transparency neglect of the Palm Beach Gardens City Council is their lack of presence in the Council Chambers for meetings with the public. One scheduled meeting per month on a Thursday evening is tantamount to a failure of responsibility and trust. One scheduled meeting per month simply is not sufficient and …

  • It does not foster communication, openness, and accountability 
  • It is not sufficient for the protection of the rights and interests of the residents of Palm Beach Gardens
  • It does not avail the public of its right to see the entirety of operations and activities of government at work
  • It debilitates the residents’ right to information held by government
  • It prevents the public’s right to observe the political decision making process to its fullest extent in the light of the Council Chambers and not the darkness of the Administration offices

The City Council’s deprivation of the residents from important public information by the lack of interface with the public on a basis of sufficient frequency is a glaring example of the misinterpretation, misunderstanding, and simple non-practice of transparency. My suggested remedy is simple, schedule more meetings with the public in the Council Chambers. Workshop meetings between first and second reading of advertised ordinances and resolutions, is a practice of the past that should be reinstituted. There are at least four Thursdays in every month, not just one.


One Response to “Martino: There are at least four Thursdays in every month….”
  1. PBG Watch says:

    We agree. Upon examining the practices of sister cities – both slightly smaller, the same size or larger in Palm Beach County – Palm Beach Gardens is the ONLY city that has only one council meeting per month. All have at least 2 council meetings and several have 1 to 2 workshops additionally.

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