I have been active in the Loring-Fleming School PTA (called the PEC) since my oldest was in first grade. It’s a great cause and directly benefits the school environment. It is also a great way to keep informed what is happening at the school. As I sat there during the January meeting, something struck me as both ironic and sad at the same time.
Before I elaborate on the PEC meeting, I need to give some back story on local Gloucester Township politics. At the first January Council meeting, myself and another resident brought up the subject of public officials and directors giving a status update at meetings. This led to a heated discussion back and forth, with the directors talking about what they do during workshops. Those in the audience did not buy it. The next day, one of the Patch articles had a similar discussion.
In the span of 24 hours, multiple residents brought up the issue of why don’t our elected officials and department directors give a real status update. It’s one thing for the mayor to only talk about good things but why won’t he tell us when projects like the “Hit Doctor” project are in jeopardy? Why does it take someone asking? If the solicitor gave rulings or answered questions he should tell the people about it. If there were new laws passed that affect council, he should announce them. If community development is pursuing projects, that is his chance to tell the people. Having to hunt through workshop minutes is not enough, especially since they refuse to televise meetings.
As a watchdog, I sat there aghast and shocked our municipal leaders would refuse to do the same thing that every one of us do in our own weekly status reports for our jobs. They claim to be about transparency but when they do not give updates including negative stories they lose credibility. It looks like they are hiding information or do not want the people to know what they are doing. Even getting them to give numbers or the cost of a resolution they are voting on is tough. Why can’t they tell us what they did the past two weeks, what they plan on doing, the status of their projects in flight, and any additional news relating to their department?
Fast forward to the PEC meeting and why I am blogging about GT politics again. There is an agenda item for old business where the board discusses the past month, including what didn’t work out as expected. They openly discuss a miserable failure or mistake to never do again. They give details on dollars raised to the penny or if it is an estimate they report on what they know. They talk about the plans for the next month with as much detail as they can. The treasurer goes over the budget and account to the penny. The principal gives her report of what is happening in the school and at the School Board. Later in the meeting committee chairs give detailed reports on various projects and initiatives including the cost to the PEC before the vote. When the representative to the “council of schools” reports on ideas and initiatives other schools in the district are doing, the board listens attentively for what we can learn from them.
This board, made up of volunteer parents, has every month for at least the past five years found a way to give the other parents who took their time to attend the meeting as much information as they could. And in doing so this group of soccer moms and hockey dads completely outclassed Gloucester Township's ruling party and their department directors. Why can my PEC be run so professionally with complete transparency yet my local government cannot give status updates, or discuss details and actual costs before votes without having a watchdog resident ask them, or be open to the “best practices” from other towns?
Want to improve your local town with real transparency and honest government? Start by recruiting candidates from the local PTA, not the relatives of former politicians or “loyal” party officials who will be little more than a rubber stamp. The board members of the Loring-Fleming PEC practice all of the qualities reformers have been begging for, including outstanding stewardship of our children’s money.
Before the meeting started, I asked one of the PEC board members if she would consider running for public office, even school board. With a puzzled look on her face, she asked why I thought she would be qualified. It was simple: she sincerely cares, she can use little or no resources to magically “get things done” for our children, shows compassion, and she demonstrates a professionalism and transparency rarely seen by our public servants. Any board or council she sits on in the future could learn a lot from her. And so could I.