This past week was Sunshine Week, established by the American Society of News Editors to celebrate and safeguard open and transparent government. But one small Michigan village in Macomb County isn’t feeling the spirit.
Harry Awdey is the Parks Commissioner for the Village of Armada, located on the northwest side of Macomb County. Awdey says he has been trying to make the village more transparent ever since he took office this past November.
“I want our village residents to see where we stand financially,” said Awdey. “I’m a government 2.0 kind of guy.”
However, when Awdey proposed a resolution last week to put the village budget online for all taxpayers to see, not one of the seven other board members seconded the motion. A small step towards greater government transparency died on the spot.
But some members of the board disagree with Awdey’s approach. “We are a small community trying as hard as possible to make every effort to be transparent in our financial accounting,” said village Treasurer Jo Adair in an e-mail.
Adair says the village budget is a “very complex” 10-page document that “the general public would have a hard time understanding.”
Adair added that “The council did not deem it necessary to spend taxpayer money to have someone maintain such documents/changes/amendments online.”
“Some governments follow the spirit of the open records laws and some merely follow the letter of the law,” said Ken Braun, managing editor of Michigan Capitol Confidential and head of the Mackinac Center’s Show Michigan the Money transparency project. “If you follow the spirit of the law, you put the information out there before you’re asked. If you stick to the letter of the law, you keep it hidden until somebody asks for it.
“Taxpayers in most communities should and can be trusted to read and understand their local government’s financial documents,” added Braun. “Maybe the Armada treasurer knows something peculiar about the people who live in Armada – or perhaps she’s just being condescending.”
“Over the years we have repeatedly invited anyone who is interested or curious about our budget to stop by the office,” said Adair. “Or, if they cannot make it here during working hours, I will gladly make an appointment to meet them at a time that is convenient for them, and give them any/all the information that they desire. That way I know that the person looking at the information understands what they are reading.”
Village President Sherri Cooper added in an e-mail, "We are a small community and with our budget constraints as they stand today, we are unable to financially support the additional expense that our Village would incur."
Awdey disagrees with the reasoning from the rest of the council.
“I offered to pay for this out of my own salary,” he explained. “There are a lot of smaller townships and villages than us that put up this information. We should join them.”