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Make better government a New Year’s resolution

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Ah, a new year. For most of us, it’s a time of new beginnings – a time to reflect on the previous 52 weeks, and perhaps commit to doing things a little differently in the coming year. We make a commitment to improve our lives in some way, such as spending more time at the gym, spending less time at the office, eating a little healthier, learning a new skill or taking up a new hobby.
For elected office-holders – from local town councils and school boards, to the state Legislature and U.S. Congress – the new year offers a unique time to reflect on how we might better serve the public.
Here are four good New Year’s resolutions for those of us in elected government positions:
u First and foremost, let’s commit to openness. Openness is always the best policy. Public records should be easily accessible, as should all elected officials. And government spending details should be posted on the Web, so taxpayers can see how their hard-earned dollars are spent with a few clicks of a mouse, from the comfort of their own homes. Transparency improves the quality of government by holding public officials accountable, and it helps to build a sense of public trust.
u Let’s be more respectful. A hallmark of a healthy system of government is the willingness of public officials to debate contentious issues without descending into attacking those they oppose. We all say we want civil, issue-oriented discourse, yet, all too often, politics gets consumed by name-calling, accusations and the blame game. We’d do well to take this opportunity to renew our commitment to civil debate and showing respect toward those who hold viewpoints different than our own.
u Never forget the taxpayers, whose hard-earned dollars make it possible for government to operate. These days, it seems many government officials view spending as the primary measure of their public service. They talk about how they brought home the bacon or secured a government grant, almost as if it’s their own money and their own generosity they’re talking about. They give little consideration to the plight of all the taxpayers who have more and more money pulled from their pockets so the politicians can take credit for spending it.
u Let’s never stop trying to improve government. Many citizens realize that the governmental bodies that serve them – such as their town hall, their school district or their state and federal government – are in need of real reform to improve the way services are provided.
But there are lots of politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and good old boys who are happy with the way things are – the status quo – because they derive their power from the current system.
They are unwilling to change the system because they are part of the system, and they view reform efforts as intrusion onto their turf. That’s wrong.
Government exists to serve the people, not the other way around. One of the most important things a public official can do is search for ways to make government less expensive and more accountable, even when it rubs some people within government the wrong way.
Public service is a noble pursuit, and it should be treated accordingly.
Let’s make 2012 a year in which we truly better our local community, our state and our nation. Happy New Year.

 

Richard Eckstrom is comptroller general of South Carolina.