Opinion: Transparency is key

Published 8:51 am Monday, April 15, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

In the wake of recent events in Helena concerning the distribution of the Teachers Assistance Grants (TAG), a spotlight has yet again been cast on the necessity of transparency from our civic leaders.

The recent handling of a select number of these grants sparked a wave of public scrutiny and controversy that began after teachers at The Hillsboro School, a private school, were awarded funds supplied by a public sales tax. As a result of recent conversations and backlash, the Hillsboro school has now opted to return their TAG grants.

The decision that Hillsboro has taken to return the money underscores the complexities involved in public funding and the expectations that the citizens in our municipalities have toward the fair and judicious use of their tax dollars. Such incidents serve as critical reminders of why accountability in local government matters profoundly and why awareness and public involvement is a constant necessity.

Regardless of one’s opinions on the matter, that chain of events also highlighted the importance of local news coverage and a continued need for communicative and responsible governance that actively engages and responds to its constituents, especially in times of tension.

In the immediate days after the public criticisms, Council members Hewy Woodman and Alice Lobell were among those that openly addressed the issue over social media—engaging with the community through various platforms, patiently conversing with a wide number of voices and answering even more questions over email.

Woodman’s approach to maintaining open lines of communication—whether through social media, in person at local events or even during chance encounters—exemplifies an ongoing commitment to accessibility. His acknowledgment of the situation as “bad” for the city’s image and his self-professed call for increased transparency and regulatory measures reflect a responsive and responsible leadership style that is not only admirable, but one that every civic leader of any level should seek to follow.

Similarly, Alice Lobell’s dedicated engagement with the Helena Teen Council and her proactive communication efforts demonstrate her own resolve not to let bureaucratic processes stifle her connection with the community. Lobell’s insistence on the TAG Team Grants’ original goodwill intent and her pledge to refine the Council’s selection process moving forward indicate a forward-thinking approach to governance and an active engagement with the concerns carried through a large number of angered and frustrated voices.

The need for such transparency and accountability is critical, not only as a mechanism to prevent missteps but also as a foundation to establish, and at times rebuild, the trust between the public and those elected to represent them. Their input actively diffused and calmed a situation that began with rife confusion at best and municipal rancor at worst.

Ensuring that civic leaders like Woodman and Lobell are accessible and responsive to the needs of their constituents is essential in cultivating a healthy democratic environment. It is a practice that allows for a mutual understanding and a shared commitment to the community’s well-being, which in turn fosters a stronger, more connected municipality.

As Helena moves forward, it becomes increasingly apparent that the path to restoring and maintaining public trust lies through this open and earnest communication. The Council’s efforts to amend procedures and ensure proper safeguards for grant distribution will be a critical step in this direction. By learning from past oversights and adjusting accordingly, Helena’s leaders can set a precedent for responsible governance that other cities might well consider emulating.

Furthermore, let us not forget that whatever the issues related to the grant disbursements, the act of supporting our community’s schools should never fall by the wayside, and I for one strongly support Helena’s TAG grant program and its support of the public schools that so desperately need all the funding we can muster.

In conclusion, I’d like to recognize Woodman and Lobell’s work as a reminder that civic accountability and transparency is not merely a response to controversy but a continual and required commitment to the people.