Transparency and Our Web Page
I occasionally hear comments about transparency or the perceived lack of it in government. This article is dedicated to a discussion of facts about the Town of River Bend’s ongoing efforts to be transparent. First, what does transparency mean? In a literal sense, it simply means - able to be seen through. Dictionary.com/browse/transparency says this about transparency - “It is perhaps most commonly used in a figurative way to refer to a state in which things are free from any attempt to hide something…”
If I were asked to specifically give one example of the Town of River Bend’s effort to be transparent, I would simply point to our webpage as “Exhibit A.” Our web page is full of information about the town. Following is a list of just some of the data you will find on our web page. It’s available 24/7/365 from the privacy and comfort of your home, all with just a few keystrokes and a few clicks of your mouse.
- Many years of agendas, minutes and video recordings from previous town meetings. The town is not required to record its Council meetings.
- Council and staff contact information and a Council meeting schedule
- All town ordinances and many town policies, forms and permit applications
- Maps of all sorts and a town calendar of upcoming events
- Lots of information about each town department
- A list of job vacancies and bid opportunities
- Notice of any upcoming public hearings
- Many years of previous newsletters
- Information about Advisory Boards, what they do and how to apply including an application and minutes from past Advisory Board meetings
- Our Comprehensive Plan and lots of floodplain information
- All sorts of budget information, including our current budget and amendments thereto, past budgets, the budget message and all of the documents related to the development of the current budget, which occurred during the annual budget workshops. This includes the PowerPoint presentations that were presented during those workshops. Those workshops are open to the public and literally every single line item in all departments and the amount of funding for it are displayed on the big screen during those workshops.
- Financial Information galore, including our latest and past audit reports, and our award winning Annual Comprehensive Financial Report (ACFR). It includes 18 different tables of statistical data, many of which include 10 years of historical data, including data on fund balance, net position, bonded debt, property tax levy, tax rate, expenditures & revenues by function and even 10 years of data on how many tons of leaf and limb debris was collected, how many zoning permits were issued, how much water was treated, how much sewer was treated, how many miles of water lines, sewer lines and streets there are in town and even how many police arrests were made in town and for what. If you are interested, you can even find out how many fire hydrants and sewer lift stations there are in town and even more information. The first citizen that contacts me and correctly states the current number of fire hydrants in town, according to the latest ACFR, will receive a $25 gift certificate for River Brew from me personally.
- Financial Dashboard, which is a user friendly tool that looks a lot like an instrument cluster in a vehicle, thus the name. It allows you to easily view the current financial data on 55 different budget related items in 55 different graphs/charts. This report is updated monthly.
- Monthly Finance Report, which contains up-to-date budget information on 101 separate budget items. This report is updated monthly and shows year-to-date data for the current fiscal year.
- Monthly Citizen Agenda Packet - This document is posted on our web page and included in the weekly e-news prior to the Council meetings. It is also printed and distributed at each regular monthly Council meeting. It contains departmental reports, the finance report, Council minutes, materials related to the items that are on the agenda for that particular meeting, advisory board reports and more. You can even see how many work orders the Public Works Department staff received and completed and it’s broken down into 15 different areas. You can also see how many zoning permit applications were received and issued and the dollar amount of fees that were collected through that process. You can also see how many citizen complaints were received and how many zoning violation notices were issued. In the monthly Police Department report, you can see data for 38 different areas of police operations.
- Schedule of rates and fees, number or water and sewer customers
- A list of the Top 10 highest property taxpayers (Table 7, page 130 of 2021 ACFR)
- And lots more………………….
These are just some, but not all, of the things that you will find on our web page. It’s important to note that River Bend is not required to have a web page. No town in North Carolina is. For towns that do operate a web page, the law requires very few items to be posted on the web page. Some of those are: notices of public hearings, special meetings and bid opportunities. Almost all of the items listed above are NOT required to be published on our web page. The town does include them as a part of our effort to be transparent.
In addition to our web page, the Town also operates an e-news service. It is a weekly notice that is sent via email to subscribers. It contains lots of information about upcoming events and meetings and links to many of the items that are on our web page.
If there is any town related data/information that is in the public domain, which you need but cannot find on our web page, just call Town Hall and we will get it for you. However, please be aware that not all data is in the public domain. Some items like some personnel records, utility customer information and some attorney correspondence is not in the public domain. Also, we can only provide you with data that we have and in the format that we have it. For example, we cannot provide you with a report on how many kids aged 9-15 live in River Bend or how many registered voters live in River Bend because we do not maintain those records.
We also have an official bulletin board where we post information that is required by law. The bulletin board is located on the porch at Town Hall.
Our web page continues to grow. It is updated and expanded regularly. For example, I have recently been asked about the rules concerning closed session. Just this week, some information about that topic was added to our web page. Click here for the North Carolina law about that topic. Please visit our web page, surf around on it and if you have any suggestions for topics that need to be added, let us know.
The Town of River Bend goes well beyond the minimum requirements in regards to transparency.