For one week in March each year, media organizations across the nation focus on transparency in government. Known as “Sunshine Week,” this week offers MoreThanTheCurve.com the opportunity to share with our readers the struggles we have faced covering your local governments, when a local government hasn’t been the best at informing the public, and when a local government has gone above and beyond what is required by law in keeping the public informed.
We had a few Sunshine Week columns planned for this week, but after last night’s meeting of Conshohocken’s Borough Council, we have to address the sanctimonious statements at the end of the meeting made by Councilperson James Griffin and Council President Colleen Leonard.
Both stated that the public has to show up to meetings to stay informed of what Borough Council is working on. This is true but ignores the Borough’s failure in adequately keeping the public informed of what will be discussed during the meeting.
In regards to the potential sale of the sewer system, here is the first public mention in regards to the potential sale (from the agenda for the November 20, 2019 agenda):
Consider approving an agreement with PFM for financial advisor services related to the sewer system
As MoreThanTheCurve.com reported at the time, PFM had been retained in recent years by several nearby municipalities to determine the value of their sewer systems. We know this because we cover other nearby municipalities. The general public has no idea.
Griffin, Leonard, and the rest of Borough Council apparently think that is sufficient information to provide to the public to alert them to what was the first step for consideration of a sale of the sewer system.
The Borough sends out an email to its subscriber list every time it will be closed for a holiday. Apparently informing the public when it won’t be working is more important than making the extra effort to send an email about an important issue it is working on.
The Borough also made no effort to use its Facebook page to inform the public on the potential sale. There isn’t a single post about the issue on the Borough’s Facebook page.
We would like to share with you an example of an elected official going above and beyond what is legally required on keeping the public informed and actively seeking engagement on an important topic.
Derrick Perry, Sr. is a member of Norristown’s Council. On a regular basis, he posts meeting agendas and makes posts about specific issues in the two main groups about Norristown on Facebook. While the agenda is on Norristown’s website and its Facebook page, Perry is making the effort to keep the public informed.
Perry is not required to do this. He chooses to do this.
That is a leader seeking to keep the public informed and engaged. In Conshohocken, that type of leadership and effort is lacking.
We actually don’t think a member of Borough Council should have to do this. Conshohocken employs a communications person, that person should do it.
The recent negative reaction to the potential sewer sale was a self-inflicted problem because Borough Council made no effort to go above and beyond to inform and educate the public on the issue.
Griffin, Leonard, and the rest of Borough Council owe the public an apology.
Please note that the Borough did everything it had to do legally in regards to public notice in connection to the sewer issue. The issue is that Conshohocken needs to do more. It needs to do better.