Editorial – Will ’23 be year of transparency?

Published 4:59 pm Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Two important local governing bodies will open new eras in 2023 with fresh faces and voter mandates for change.

A common theme in November’s election results for the Smithfield Town Council and Isle of Wight School Board was voters’ desire for more transparent governance.

New Town Council members Steve Bowman and Jeff Brooks ran unapologetically on platforms of more citizen involvement in town decision-making. Bowman was the runaway top vote-getter among five candidates on the ballot, and Brooks won one of four spots on the town board despite having lived in the community for just a couple of years. Ousted was incumbent Mayor Carter Williams, who personified for many citizens a paternalistic town government that came to see citizen input as a pesky obligation for wise leaders who themselves knew what was best for Smithfield.

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Frustrated voters sent a resounding reminder that they remain in charge..

We have high hopes that Bowman and Brooks will live up to their pledge to make the Town Council more transparent. An early symbolic, but important, change would be to join returning Councilwoman Valerie Butler in her long push for livestreamed meetings of the council and other town boards. Such simple technology is about two decades past due in Smithfield.

In the 21st century, citizens shouldn’t have to physically attend a meeting in order to watch their government in action.

New Isle of Wight School Board members Jason Maresh and Mark Wooster have a similar mandate from their voters. They ousted their incumbent opponents largely due to parents’ belief that their concerns were falling on deaf ears.

The newcomers now get a chance to govern, which is a lot more difficult than campaigning. Oversight of public education involves a lot more than playing gotcha with administrators and teachers over objectionable instructional content, the hot-button issue that fueled Maresh’s and Wooster’s political rise.

They now face important decisions such as how to best spend the school division’s capital funds when there are competing constituent interests. At their first meeting last month, as some parents advocated for the band and others for sports teams, the new board members got their first reminder that you can’t make everyone happy.