Transparent budgeting

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By The Staff

Did you notice the additional coverage the Optic gave the city budget process this year? More than once it led the day’s news, even with less-than-flattering headlines expressing “rejection” and “concern.” But in the end the job was got done, and the budget was passed — looking about as good as one might hope for in a fiscally tight year.

The fact is, the budget process was performed with extraordinary openness. That’s a big reason why it was covered so thoroughly — and why the “negative” stories were out there for all the world to see.

That’s the thing about transparency: The more open you are with the process, the more vulnerable you are to criticism and exposure. Nevertheless, it’s still the best way to ensure good government.

Indeed, it was a transparently sloppy budget process for the city of Las Vegas — understandably so, considering the change in departmental leadership that took place just before the deadline. In June, less than two months before the budget HAD to be approved, Mayor Tony Marquez pushed through the dismissal of six of 10 department heads just before muscling into place Sharon Caballero as city manager — not the best timing for musical chairs.

Such circumstances might lead some officials to quietly draw up the budget, with minimal participation from the citizens and as few public discussions as possible. After all, working behind closed doors is preferable when you want to put the best face on.

To his credit, the mayor and new city manager didn’t play it that way. While the law requires public meetings to be a part of the budget process, Marquez went way beyond the legal mandates. He gave city residents a number of opportunities to be heard. He convened a public work session to hear from each of the department heads. And he had everyone he could find working on a strategic plan, so the city would go into the next budget cycle with some specific objectives for improving the community.

The mayor, council, city manager and staff should be commended for their efforts to involve the community and keep them informed all the way through the budgetary process. It made for some sloppy work at times, but it was worth it.

A City Hall that listens and responds is better than one that is confronted and reacts. Perhaps that’s the biggest difference between this administration and the last one — and in that regard, we’re happy for the change.