EDITORIAL: Public’s best interest should include transparency in government

During Monday’s City Council meeting, Councilman Byron Tippie offered The Independent an apology, although he needn’t have. Earlier this year, Mr. Tippie questioned whether there was a conflict of interest between our newspaper and a local photographer who is married to a member of the City Council. On Monday, Mr. Tippie said he was mistaken in his earlier view and the Council voted unanimously to select The Independent as the official newspaper of legal record for the City of Liberty Hill.

The thing is we think Councilman Tippie did the right thing both times. The first time he had a question so he asked it out loud and in public. After more than 25 years in the news business we knew we had no conflict of interest, but Councilman Tippie had every right to ask questions. He asked questions about potential conflicts in an effort to hold local government to as high a standard as possible. We hope he and his colleagues on the Council keep asking questions and seek the truth, especially when it comes to issues regarding conflicts of interest.

We believe the Liberty Hill City Council had the right idea when it adopted a revised Code of Ethics and Conduct last summer requiring all appointees to swear out affidavits and disclose financial interests in businesses and property that could benefit from their service. Once declared, these individuals are required to abstain from discussions and voting on all issues that might impact them.

Interestingly enough, none of the newly appointed committee members have complied with the rules. Yet, in public meetings, some have revealed information that clearly indicate they are conflicted. No one has abstained from discussions or votes.

This continued non-compliance creates the perception that the new ethics rules were just aimed at forcing out one set of folks and replacing them with another. Surely, that was not the intent of the Council. Further, it causes some to question whether the appointees believe they are above the rules.

Maybe there are ominous reasons why some of the committee appointees haven’t complied with the rules. Perhaps some don’t want to disclose the very reason they sought to be appointed to these positions of influence in the first place.

During recent public hearings it has become evident that some conflicts of interest exist. As some appointees have railed and vented against city policy and rules they hope to change, they have accidentally admitted that they have personal financial interests in the outcome of the issues that come before these committees.

The taxpayers and voters who own the government, its committees and its funds deserve to know how and why decisions are made. They deserve to know if the people making the decisions, as well as their business and personal relationships, stand to make money from the changes in policy.

Sound policy and good government are hard work. Good government requires the highest in motive, in ethical guidelines and a strong moral compass. The City of Liberty Hill elected a new Mayor last year and elected a new Council this year. Some of those campaigns were won with the message that the city was not transparent enough, that a good ole’ boy system existed. The voters responded and upended their local government. Are they getting the transparency they asked for?

We should all be wary when arrogance of power and a sense of entitlement appear to guide those clamoring for the steering wheel. Government appointees cannot be allowed to believe that they can make major policy decisions regarding the taxpayer’s money while ultimately being responsible to no one. Government appointees cannot be allowed to believe that they do not owe their fellow citizens a report of whether or not they have a conflict of interest. If the appointees do not make the necessary disclosures, they should be replaced.

The citizens of Liberty Hill deserve the best that is humanly possible from those who seek to be in charge of our collective futures.