Freeholder announces new transparency plan

Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly today announced a five-point Burlington County government “transparency plan” which, he said, would provide residents with easier access to meetings, budgets, and other documents, and allow more time to review upcoming agendas.

In addition, said Donnelly, the county would launch a new Facebook page this week which would provide residents with real-time updates on programs and services posted on the county’s official website, and allow visitors to the page to offer constructive feedback.

“Hopefully, this entrée into social media will give more residents a front row seat to county business, and an opportunity to ask questions and learn more about programs and services,” said Donnelly. “But this is just one element of a bigger transparency package.

“For starters, we are taking our show on the road,” said Donnelly. “We will work with local officials this year to schedule and publicize three or four meetings at different municipal locations throughout the county.”

Donnelly said the county’s cumbersome meeting schedule would be condensed, more information on County departments and services would be highlighted during meetings, and a new webpage would be created to bring key documents under one heading to facilitate access.

He detailed the four elements of his reform plan as follows:

Meeting Locations — Donnelly said staff has already been instructed to seek locations removed from the county seat, reach out to municipal officials, assemble a schedule of meetings, and promote road meetings to ensure area residents know the dates and times.

Condensed Meeting Schedule — All freeholder meetings — conferences and public meetings alike — will be held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. Currently, conferences are held every Wednesday.

“The intent is simple,” said Donnelly. “This will give staff more time to assemble agendas. More important, it will ensure that freeholders have the time they need in advance of public meetings to review items and ask questions.”

Monthly Reports — At the second public meeting each month, a County department head will provide a report on programs and activities in his or her department, where necessary, briefly explain the department’s function, and entertain questions from the public.

“This is another key step toward familiarizing taxpayers and residents on the responsibilities of County government,” said Donnelly. “Everyone knows we collect recyclables and plow snow, but there is a much larger menu of services that need to be better understood.”

Transparency Webpage — Key documents, everything from budgets and financial statements to agendas, lists of municipal recreation grants, minutes and election results will be easily accessible by going to a newly-created Transparency Webpage, to be launched this week. The quick link can be found on the county’s homepage (www.co.burlington.nj.us).

“Most, if not all of this data, can already be found on the website, but it takes some searching to find it,” said Donnelly. “Putting all these documents in one location just makes it easier for everyone. Best of all, this page will be a work-in-progress, as the list of documents is expanded over time.”

Facebook — The county’s new Facebook page will also be launched this week, as part of an effort to connect residents with County government and make it more user-friendly.

“Last year we discovered how Facebook could assist us in our battle against the higher utility rates sought by New Jersey American Water,” said Donnelly. “In addition, we discovered that our program to collect clothing and food for Sandy victims took on a life of its own when others publicized it on Facebook.”