Where UMC-Unofficial Laity can talk in Open Forum
Within Our Means -- An On-Line Attempt at Rebuilding Trust in Local Government
The problem as I see it: http://youtu.be/5u03KAcEbEo
Why we need full disclosure on line for public scrutiny:
If you would like to participate in a group to quarterly review your city budget online in your community, contact Rich Buckley, email: Buckley.Rich@Gmail.com.
(This page has been assigned the following tinyurl for reference: http://tinyurl.com/3vj6ka6)
During a recent city election I realized how ignorant of city finances I had allowed myself to become. I had no idea of its size, none whatsoever. With the exception of one very intelligent Dr. of Mechanical Engineering who monitors such things in my community, I discovered there seemed to be budget-ignorance among the political challengers as well as among us voters.
Why not put a "comprehensive budget" of the sort discussed in the video above ("The Biggest Game In Town") on line? A lot of communities all across the country appear to be starting. Here’s one boring example of online finances that will drive you right back into a state of numbness but at least it’s a valid attempt: The City of Bloomington’s 2009 budget http://bloomington.in.gov/documents/viewDocument.php?document_id=2035
And, here is another way to cover the budget discussion on line. Ignore the political slant the context of this 6 minute video delivers. The fact is they do a very good job of delivering a perspective.
So the point is, if we strive to be creative and seek equilibrium, it may entail avoiding one of the biggest complaints against "public meetings for public input", and that is the process is too often (on really important big ticket items) too often a staged event, with registration at the doors, selection of who attends, stacking the deck to distort the outcome, then applying a ruse of asking in the public meeting "all those in favor of moving ahead raise your hands." The pre-selected stacked deck of participants then of course vote "to move on" and the event becomes .... MANAGED .... with reasonable descent stifled in place never giving respect to alternative point of view.
So, in lieu of the managed process, in lieu of the synthetic "we held a public meeting and you should have been there," why not augment input using the power of the internet to discuss the budget so people can actually, really grasp the big picture and not fume in their ignorance only to bring their wrath to the poles every election. Isn't it worth a try for us to at least attempt to make partners out of the voters?
Communities large and small are posting budgets on line all over the country, and yet their delivery remains so boring nobody wants to read their posts except political opponents looking for evidence. What we probably need is to post "comprehensive budgets" of the sort discussed and even presented in the manner discussed in the video above ("The Biggest Game In Town"). On the other hand good financial reporting that includes some level of simple get-to-the-point video over view, pulls even the untrained reader into an alliance of understanding and a sense of working partnership with their community. Currently this politically correct modern response to openness and transparency is a waste of time for most of us because it simply re-posts pdf file formated standard accounting practices which only a small faction of us really understand. I'm not an expert, but I know experts that can speak in plain English and not debits and credits and complex ratios. I sat on a board of directors of a tiny non-profit with a retired financial corporate analyst who could look at financial statements and actually explain them to the board in ordinary language that made sense. It was most empowering to have this experienced financial wizard talk us through the budget each week. He could look at the financials and ask intelligent questions concerning key management issues. I wish I had that knack. But I know it can be developed in the average person with the help of video talk-throughs accompanying boring standard accounting practices.
Believe it or not, I’m in good company. Warren Buffett can’t stand managing his companies using data displayed in standard accounting practices. He keeps two sets of books. One set of books for the accountants and SEC, and the other set of books for himself and to explain operations to his investors… on the back of an envelop or on one to three pages of paper… and who’s going to argue with Warren Buffett? His annual Buffett "Letters" are the most important part of his financial reports in the eyes of his investors.
Yes, I know if I go into city hall, a kindly individual will hold my hand, and spend hours going over things with me. But that misses my point. Rather than an intensive one-on-one education of a few councilpersons or some guy like me randomly walking in off the street imposing my request on the City at great time and expense on the city's part to educate me, instead, educate everyone at the same time in an entertaining, quarterly updated, video walk and talk through an otherwise boring budget on line. Spend time explaining in non-technical language the interesting parts of budget trends, special budget ratios, budget forecasts, that make or break communities and are usually kept quiet. Review things in the spirit that good or bad, we can trust to the long term social benefit if we just explain things the way they are.
Here's the spirit: Let's go over those little secrets we haven't really wanted to point out to you in the past because we may embarrass ourselves, even though its all public information. Let volunteer outsiders assist. Build the presentation by trial and error, truthfulness, helpfulness, and a spirit of humble reality. Our political leaders, if they are leaders, will find an acceptable way to convert humble reality into "inspired purpose, inspired goals, and direction for our town." Be flexible until a useful pattern starts to develop among communities doing similar online reviews.
A significant percentage of city financial information has always in the past been used to try to take down the incumbents in a he-said, she-said political sound-bite dance that we all have come to dislike. We dislike it because we can only respond emotionally not from deep understanding of financial realities. Often when candidates drill down and tweak their positions for clarity, we find there is little or no difference among them. Part of the challenger's weakness rests in not having resource access to why and where financial skeletons have been hidden. But what happens in the political processes if we all start having access in easy to understand, guided financial quarterly reviews by outside volunteer committees keeping us informed or providing us an online educational library that even the newspapers would want to cite for reference? My unproven thesis is, we become more like a proverbial Rotary Club as a community -- something like "Service Above Self." I'm not a member of Rotary, but you get the idea. The idea being, if we have to face hardships or changes, it really helps if we function more as a community of interests formed from the bottom up, rather than an elitist wisdom administered from the top down. The idea behind my version of online reports are intended to help build community from the bottom up thus creating greater trust among us and hopefully a more relaxed atmosphere for everyone. Those in power may feel more willing to step aside if the community is less strident as a result of a much greater number of us being of like mind and spirit. Sort of like stepping back and discovering it's more about our each being acknowledged and accepted and wanted as being a part of the working community and sharing equally in the insider's information in a relaxed, even humorous, personalized Andy Griffith's Aunt Bee's warm-plate-of-fresh-baked-cookies mind set. Goober's concerns are given equal value with everyone elses. Ironically the fresh-baked-cookies approach to city government is actually more potent in addressing modern human needs than power lunches, indentured political incumbencies-turned fiefdoms or 24/7/365 connectivity. It's learning how to use the connectivity in a loving and humorous way that yields learning, community, respect and a needed wider span of tolerance.
The candor- approach being recommended here comprise not your normal financial reporting categories. But these are the sorts of things insiders know and political challenger candidates and average citizens just do not know. These are the kinds of understandings that city managers routinely consider but seldom share with the public. Eventually the process of openness and transparency in government would be guided by trial and error to create new standards that we all understand perhaps even on a nationwide level.
My guess is such openness, candor and quarterly currency given to the average resident would be resisted by most city department heads at first, especially city managers. City managers will at first feel stripped naked in public. Same with department heads. Their secrets would not be so secret. So what?Once they figure out their old jobs are not at risk, they join the cause for candor and understanding.
There is an upside to all this besides just politically correct words. You and I, if we choose, become informed partners with our city staff and our elected leaders, and can sort through some of the campaign rhetoric each season with closer understanding of our realistic abilities and consequences of adjusting them. We can take 15 minutes, come each election cycle, and review with assisted keen insights what is now kept hidden from us.
In the meantime, I don’t plan to dig through stale, online Bloomington-like pdf files that mean nothing to anyone except the people that assembled them. Talk me through it. Is it too much to ask? Pass the Love.. rich buckley
PS: Perhaps another idea to take us forward can be found here: http://youtu.be/lEV5AFFcZ-s
Replies are closed for this discussion.
Febrary 2, 2012 (Email sent through City Web Site)
Dear Livermore Council Person,
Your attention is respectfully invited to consider my input in lieu of my attending the public forum for citizen input on the city budget. The idea discussed on Livermore Patch.
While Patch may not be a favorite forum, they were alert enough to call our attention to your request for input.
Some of you may be familiar with the idea of placing city budgets on-line. This link takes the idea a step further and I think helps build partners out of interested citizens when adopted by the City.
Please ask the city to link in Bob Woerner on this email contact list.
Very Respectfully Submitted
Why our mainstream newspapers and public finance agencies need watchers to over see them.
http://tinyurl.com/d3tyrhv (for entire article)
$16,000,000,000,000.00 had been secretly given out to US banks and corporations and foreign banks everywhere from France to Scotland. From the period between December 2007 and June 2010, the Federal Reserve had secretly bailed out many of the world’s banks, corporations, and governments. The Federal Reserve likes to refer to these secret bailouts as an all-inclusive loan program, but virtually none of the money has been returned and it was loaned out at 0% interest. Why the Federal Reserve had never been public about this or even informed the United States Congress about the $16 trillion dollar bailout is obvious – the American public would have been outraged to find out that the Federal Reserve bailed out foreign banks while Americans were struggling to find jobs.