Danielle Stewart for Mayor of Beckley
Position Paper #1: Government Transparency
The control of information is something the elite always does, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people – Tom Clancy
Transparency is one of the most important issues in our community. What is going on in Beckley? Do you know? Does anyone really know?
The Common Council of the City of Beckley holds meetings the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at 6:30 p.m. You can find that, and a list of all the other “Public Meetings” on the city website. That is good information to have but what do they talk about at these meetings? If you want to know, simply drive or walk to city hall and read the agendas. They are posted on the door. Can’t walk or drive there? Can’t get off work to attend a meeting? Then you will NEVER know what is happening. This is how they control YOU – and keep the power.
It doesn’t have to be this way and here is how I plan to address the issue.
Knowledge should be free to citizens and easy to access. To facilitate this, I will create an Office of Public Information and Transparency. This office, staffed by one person but supported by the departments, will work directly for the Mayor and be responsible for pushing information to the public. The Public Information Officer (PIO) will ensure all meeting agendas are posted online. They will ensure all public meetings are broadcast over multimedia channels and publish the videos so the public can review meetings as individuals desire. The PIO will ensure departments update the city website with points of contact and projects by department. The goal of this position is to make information available to the public so the PEOPLE can decide what is important to them.
It is not always enough to just push information out to residents through the internet – not everyone has equal access to the internet. I plan to address this by creating City Outreach Offices in each ward. I will locate these offices in the police sub stations located in Ward 1, Ward 3, and Ward 5 and identify other locations to cover Ward 2 and Ward 4. I will staff these offices using AmeriCorps Vista volunteers (working under the PIO but in support of the elected council member in each ward). Each office will have one police officer assigned to work there on a part-time basis to support community-based policing. Other city departments will have routine hours at each office, rotating between outreach offices on a monthly basis. City Council members will have an office available to use at each location to meet with residents. The outreach offices will support the Beckley CERT program in responding to emergencies in the community. Offices will also serve as volunteer centers, locations where the city can resource volunteers working to improve their neighborhoods.
The City Outreach Office is proactive. Individuals working in these offices will go out to their wards and identify issues (trash, potholes, abandoned properties, poor lighting, etc.) and will coordinate with the city departments to address these issues. The offices will have supervised community computer access to help connect residents with resources. There will be agendas and meeting minutes of all city public meetings posted at each location and each office will have a television to broadcast public meetings live (and rotate the community channel when there are no meetings). Each site will have a large, outdoor, lighted public bulletin board available for all to use. Personnel at each office will identify community members who are elderly or have special needs to ensure the city effectively supports those with the greatest needs.
The City Outreach Office is also reactive. Residents can come to the office to report crimes or other issues. The office will send the complaint to the appropriate city department, the ward specific council member, and both council members-at-large. The office will be responsible for ensuring the resident gets an answer to their problem and will actively track the status of issues until the issue is resolved. The office will support other agencies that respond to issues in the ward (example: Red Cross support for victims of fires).
In addition to all of this, I (and all department heads) will personally hold one quarterly listening session in each ward so that residents can directly connect to the leadership of the city, allowing residents to hold us responsible for serving the needs of the community first.
Projected Annual Cost: $130,000*
One Public Information Officer: $50,000 per year
Five VISTA workers for one year: $65,000
Five part-time Police Officers: $0 (already paid for through Community Block Development Grant)
Department Representatives: $0 (reallocate performance tasks of existing personnel)
Annual Operations for PIO and five offices: $10,000
Quarterly Listening Meetings (20 meetings per year): $5,000
Projected One Time Costs: $20,000*
Automation and office setup for five offices: $20,000
One time cost to purchase locations for offices in Ward 2 and Ward 4 (existing city property will be utilized as available): $0 - $100,000.
TOTAL FIRST YEAR COST: $150,000 to $250,000*
*The city purchased the Burleson Building in 2019 for $111,000 and then purchased the adjacent building for $55,000. The city paid $49,000 to have the Burleson building demolished and public works will demolish the other building. The $215,000 total does not include the future cost of paving these areas to create parking. This $215,000+ in one-time costs should be available in the future to fund these transparency initiatives.
The free and unrestricted flow of information is absolutely critical to improving our community. The residents of Beckley deserve this and more from their city government and I will work openly and continuously to provide our residents with the best information available. This is just one way I will create a Beckley for Beckley.