Website Gives Barnegat an ‘A’ for Transparency
Barnegat Township was the only municipality in Ocean County to record a perfect score in a comparative study of transparency in local government undertaken by politicsOC.com.
The website said the goal of the survey was to analyze what and how much information is being provided to the citizens of Ocean County from their municipal governments by way of public documents readily available on their respective websites. Criteria included whether or not each municipality maintained current versions of the following: town meeting, planning board and zoning board agendas and minutes, and whether or not meetings are filmed.
Barnegat scored a “yes” in all eight categories, which were town meeting agendas on-line, town meeting minutes on-line, town meting resolutions on-line, town meetings filmed, planning board agendas on-line, planning board minutes on-line, zoning board agendas on-line and zoning board minutes on-line.
“In January, during my re-organization address, I pledged to make transparency a hallmark of my tenure as mayor,” said Mayor John Novak. “I implemented various measures and affected certain changes – all with the cooperation and support of the entire township committee. Change is not always welcomed and some were more enthusiastic than others, but, to their credit, the township committee recognized the importance of transparency and its integral relationship with both earning and keeping the public’s trust. I would like to credit the entire township committee for their cooperation and support of this initiative as well as PoliticsOC.Com for recognizing our efforts and results.”
The website says future studies will be performed on the municipal utilities authorities and boards of education, in addition to a separate study for each Ocean County governmental agency, board and commission as time and resources allow in the future.
“Ocean County’s towns vary widely from those that provide everything, to those that haven’t updated portions in months or years,” the site says. “Despite the low cost, we find it concerning that a minority of municipalities film their meetings.”
The site says the state must “adopt a uniform statutory requirement establishing a minimum baseline for what public documents should be readily accessible online to remedy the current patchwork that currently exists with respect to local government transparency.
“This is not impossible and should not be controversial, as a state law already requires local municipal utilities authorities (MUAs) to maintain a website with similar information, so asking the same of municipal governments would be reasonable in this author’s opinion,” it says. “The state Department of Community Affairs, which oversees municipalities and reviews budgets, would likely be the best venue to enforce such a requirement. Until there is a uniform state requirement for what municipalities must disclose to the public on their websites, we will continue to have the current patchwork that exists today, with some municipalities maintaining a perfect score, such as Barnegat, and others like Ocean Gate lacking.”
— Eric Englund