Sunday, September 24, 2017

If I Were Mayor Of Greensboro: Part 37, Transparency

Another in my continuing series, Billy Jones For Mayor of Greensboro.

Do you remember back when Nancy Vaughan first ran for Mayor of Greensboro on a platform of transparency and open government? I, along with Roch Smith jr of and others were among the people pushing the issue.

The issue is TRANSPARENCY! Transparency covers it all. Transparency prevents the fraud and corruption. Transparency protects the victims.

And do you remember when newly elected Mayor Vaughan pushed through a 9-0 vote to approve the use of her Financial Interest Disclosure Forms? Why even the News & Record called the effort "relatively weak."

As you can see in the video, I went before City Council that night and begged Mayor Vaughan and Council to make the law even stronger. But 9-0 it was passed without making the new law any stronger.

So why did Mayor Vaughan and the rest of the Greensboro City Council shy away from passing a law that might actually work?

And while Nancy Vaughan's disclosure form states that:

"My husband, Donald Vaughan, is a legal consultant for International Textile Group."

Donald Vaughan's $20,000 a month payment from ITG assures that ITG owned Cone Mills will continue to get $1,785,000 a year in free landfill gas from the White Street Landfill. (By the way, Jim Kees had a hand in that deal as he and Nancy Vaughan both voted for it.)

The first line of the disclosure Affirmation signed by Nancy Vaughan on February 28, 2014 reads:

"I affirm that the information provided in this Economic Interest Disclosure Form and any attachments hereto are true, complete, and accurate to the best of my knowledge and belief."

You reckon she didn't know about the landfill gas?

And I wonder if our Mayor Vaughan has updated her disclosure form to note the changes in her marital status and living arrangements? You see the Mayor's marital status is our business because she made it our business when she put it on a public disclosure form she designed and pushed Council to approve.

Something sadly missing in Mayor Vaughan's disclosure form is who her business partners happen to be. You see, while her form shows her as being a partner in VM LLC. it doesn't tell us that another partner in VM LLC is none other than Paul Mengert who turned out to be involved with the problems that took place at Heritage House.

Remember Heritage House, where hundreds were forced from their homes by the City of Greensboro for unpaid water bills? Paul Mengert, Nancy Vaughan's business partner, was one of the people responsible for paying the water bill. This bears examination.

So what would I do if I were Mayor of Greensboro?

For starters I would lobby State government for stricter disclosure laws on City Council Members-- laws that bite.

A 3rd party investigation by the SBI or FBI might be in order.

And while I'm not going to try to make it a law that the entire City Council do so immediately, as Mayor I would wear a police body camera whenever conducting city business as well as installing video cameras in the Mayor's office and other places where City business is discussed.

By law all communications with elected officials are public record-- why not keep records? There's no exception for face to face communications.

 Then we'd consider having the rest of Council do the same. Once the mayor starts doing it I don't believe they'd be able to get away with refusing to do so.I'd require that disclosure forms be updated annually (they're not currently) and that disclosure forms be updated any time something/anything changes. There is a very good chance that 2014 Financial Interest Disclosure Forms are all that the City of Greensboro currently has on hand for most city council members even though it is currently 2017.
As you can see by clicking on the e-mail below, despite the fact that the News & Record reported on the story on December 20, 2013, the forms only started rolling in between February 20, 2014 and some time in early April 2014. Obviously no one on the Greensboro City Council took the issue of transparency seriously then or now.

I could go on and on about the things the council members failed to remember to list on the form (Jamal Fox forgot the house he lived in. Yvonne Johnson left off over $10,000 in city funding for her non profit.) but I wrote that elsewhere in the blog back in 2014 and it will make for another post later. Point is, transparency is not something your current Mayor and City Council consider necessary for good governance when in-fact: Transparency covers it all. Transparency prevents the fraud and corruption. Transparency protects the victims.

But then you already knew that.
I don't do text messaging so you don't have to worry about that. Is there a way to record the Mayor's telephone calls? If yes then I'm all for it.

All e-mails to Mayor and City Council members should immediately go online where anyone can read them. Currently the city picks and chooses which records they want online. Don't believe me? Try to find PIRT #3399. That's my request for Council disclosure forms.

What's that? Personnel Privacy concerns? They've been BSing you again. The Mayor and City Council are only privy to personnel information concerning the 2 employees they manage-- the City Attorney and the City Manager. If city staffers have been sharing employee information other than that of the City Attorney and the City Manager with the Mayor and City Council members then the City is in violation of public records laws. Only when the City is already being sued should City Council be looking over the shoulders of the City Manager and City Attorney to view personnel records.

Tell the City Attorney's Office they can quit wasting so much time and money reading e-mails. The
City Attorney and City Manager can worry about employee management.

Okay, so perhaps from time to time a citizen e-mails an employee complaint to the Mayor or Council member. If an elected official isn't smart enough to forward that to the proper department then he or she needs to get caught.

On Sunday, February 23, 2014 Retired Guilford County Deputy Reese Coble wrote The city must require more accountability:

"Elected City Council members, along with city staff, should be held accountable for their actions. Why does the council not pass an ordinance requiring staff to submit all contracts in writing and requiring council members to sign off before one red cent is paid out? There have been too many giveaway programs passed by this and past councils. It is very easy for someone to give something away that is not theirs.

To sum it up, the staff well as council must be held accountable for their actions."
Reese was right. Too often it is impossible to trace who is responsible for the actions of staff and council. As I have said many times, mistakes are acceptable but when one is covering their trail it becomes all too obvious they've something to hide.

Now granted, there are probably more things that can be done to ensure transparency. And as time goes on I'll figure them out and people will make suggestions to me. And yes, I plan to add as many more ways as I can. After all, you can never be too transparent with the people's money and lives.
Please continue reading and sharing If I Were Mayor Of Greensboro: Part 38, The Forgotten Ones