Council needstransparency

By: Matthew Block - Contributing columnist

February promises to be a busy month for the city of Laurinburg government. There are the two usual monthly City Council meetings, consisting of tonight’s ‘work’ session and next Tuesday’s formal monthly meeting. In addition, there is a ‘retreat’ scheduled for this Friday from 2-5 p.m. and then later this month the yearly city of Laurinburg Citizen Input Session. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend all of these meetings.

The reasons for the busier than usual schedule are due to there being a new mayor (the retreat) and getting citizen input for upcoming July 1 yearly budget (Citizen Input Session).

The ‘retreat’ this Friday is no glamorous beach getaway with champagne and caviar on the taxpayer’s dime. Rather, it will be held at the Council Chambers above the Police Station. There will be a facilitator from the UNC School of Government. The purpose of the retreat is for City Council, the city manager and the mayor to discuss what we expect of each other, what our roles are, and how to make sure that each are being held accountable to performing those roles in order to govern the city in the best manner possible.

Among other things, the retreat will be an opportunity to discuss an issue that I campaigned on and one that I believe is important to not only to the citizens of Laurinburg, but to good government. That issue is transparency. I am going to ask City Council to agree that we make every effort to conduct all of the city’s business in the public eye and make more of an effort to engage the citizens in taking an active role in the way the city is governed. Specifically, I am going to ask Council to agree that city issues will not be discussed among ourselves unless all members of the governing board (all five council members and mayor) and the public are included in the discussion.

In the interest of good government and transparency, there really should be no discussion among two council members that is not shared completely with all council members and the public. I feel that the public does not want private discussions by council members between meetings because they want to know what exactly is going on and why things are being done etc. The public wants, and good government dictates, that we function at all times as a whole, in public, and for the public. I don’t expect this to be a contested issue at the upcoming retreat, as I am hoping that all members of City Council are, like I am, interested in complete transparency and openness when conducting the citizen’s business.

The other issue that I will be focusing on will be the plans by City Council on building a new City Hall. It may be that I don’t have a full picture of the citizens’ wishes, but from every citizen I have had input from or spoken to, there is strong opposition to building a $5 million new City Hall. The Laurinburg citizens that I have heard from, and that numbers in the thousands, have serious reservations about the need for this. They feel less expensive options have not been adequately explored, they don’t see the need for it now and they don’t understand how it will be paid for. I am hoping that the yearly Citizen Input Session will be an occasion that the citizens will use to address these concerns. I certainly share these concerns and feel that City Council needs to explain to the citizens exactly why they are doing what they are doing.

So, in closing, it will be a busy month for Laurinburg city government. As mayor, it is my job to keep citizens informed and engaged with city issues. As citizens, it is your job to stay informed and get engaged. Let’s do this!

Matthew Block

Contributing columnist

Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He plans to write a monthly column on the city and municipal issues.

Matthew Block serves as mayor of Laurinburg. He plans to write a monthly column on the city and municipal issues.