Friday, July 2, 2021

Your local city government is probably way more complex than you think it is

A typical city records commission meeting looks like this. The woman on the left appears to be enjoying herself, but note the glazed expressions of the other three commission members.

The only time most of us give much thought to the people and systems that govern the individual towns and cities in which we live is when something goes wrong.

Garbage didn't get picked up? Call your councilperson.

City pools not opening on time or to your satisfaction? Rail against the mayor.

Fail the sewer dye test when you're trying to move? The local ordinances are too restrictive.

I'm not saying this is good or bad, it just is. Much like offensive linemen in football, city officials only get noticed when something isn't running smoothly.

I recently got a small glimpse into a tiny corner of our local government when I agreed to serve as the resident representative on the Wickliffe Records Commission. This small body is so obscure that even one of our local councilpersons had to ask me exactly what it does (and I don't blame me, it's pretty low-profile).

The Records Commission deals with public information requests. City governments have to make a reasonable effort to comply when someone asks to see copies of public documents. This could include everything from city employee records to lists of vacant properties to copies of various permits.

The Records Commission meets twice a year and is charged with ensuring these public records requests are properly responded to, filed with the State of Ohio, and then shredded/destroyed after an established period of time. In addition to the resident rep, the Commission also includes our mayor, law director, finance director, and clerk of council.

The Commission isn't even the body that actually makes copies and fulfills these requests. We just review the most recent requests and ensure the process is functioning as it's supposed to. My first in-person meeting lasted all of about 20 minutes (and could have finished in about five).

Some may see this as a waste of time, but it's a required part of the process, and in my mind it helps to ensure the city is being as transparent as possible with its business.

So if you've ever wondered what your city officials are doing in exchange for the (meager) salary or stipend they receive for their service, the answer is quite often sitting in meetings trying to understand why someone has requested a list of every licensed dog in town and the names and addresses of their owners.

No comments:

Post a Comment