Coral Gables City Government: Why Isn’t There More Openness?

While the promotional materials of the city talk a highly educated and multilingual population, it is striking that there seems to be a lack of confidence in the residents and voters to participate in a open dialogue with the government.  The City Commission displays little practical interest in  the participation of citizens beyond comments on specific votes and in annual two sessions on the city’s estimated budget.

What is an open government? I cite a statement by the White House on the meaning of open government.

The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.  Transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing.  Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise so that their government can make policies with the benefit of information that is widely dispersed in society.  Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the …Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions. [emphasis added]

via Open Government Directive | The White House.

What can the  City of Coral Gables do to have a more open government?

The Dialogue–

  • An open city government would be a government that incorporates frequent unimpeded dialogues among the city commissioners, the city manager and the citizens on the important problems of the day.  It is inadequate that time- and subject-limited presentations of 2 minutes to the City Commission can be thought of as openness.
  • Openness should involve is a serious, mature dialogue, debate or conversation between the government and the governed with each showing courtesy toward the other.  It is not one in which, at the final stage of decision making, a few interested citizens take 2 minutes for a colloquy on a serious city issue.  As I have observed, the people at commission meetings are lonely speakers and the commissioners and the city manager are polite observers who may simulate interest in comments on issues for which most decisions are already understood to have been taken.  The Commissioners state their views, but their views are never subject to deep questioning.
  • New forums need to be devised so that more citizens can participate more frequently.  The forums can be town hall meetings, neighborhood meetings in specific subjects, dialogues through the website or other social media, open sessions with important local organizations.  The meeting structure and organization is only limited by the imagination of the participants.

The Information–

  • The city provides information on the annual estimated budget as required by law.  More information of this sort could be provided on a quarterly basis.   Also, the city should publish the annual budgets results as soon as they are known and in the same categories as the detailed estimated budget to compare results.
  • The city should provide regular publications on the progress in capital spending.  Information on important projects, such as the city museum, should be published.
  • Information on the progress of the Country Club and Biltmore Hotel leases, their income and costs can easily be published.  There are frequent complaints of city commissioners on the publication of information by the Coral Gables Gazette.  This can easily be resolved by the city itself publishing current information.
  • Senior staff should be held responsible for providing more and regular information on the city’s website.

About Stephen E. McGaughey
International consultant in economic development programs and projects

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