Thomas Howard: Supervisors make effort for transparency

By THOMAS HOWARD,

Last year, I went on a fishing trip in the gulf with my brother in-law and my dad. It ended like most of our fishing expeditions, empty handed, but we had fun all the same. Of course, I took my trusty camera along and provided mom and my sister with plenty of photos.

Afterward, my brother-in-law remarked there were no photos of me.

Good!

Ever since the days of being shuttled into the Sears Photo Center, stopping by the bathroom to have an ice cold wet comb dragged across my scalp, and forced to plaster a fake smile on my face so some great aunt I’d never met could see what I looked like one year older, I’ve tried hard to avoid having my picture taken.

I even became a photographer in large part so I would be the one taking pictures instead of the one having his picture taken. My abhorrence to being photographed justified nine years of student loans. Well, not really, but it helped.

The point is, I understand not wanting to be in front of the camera, and I’m grateful for the people who let me take their picture for the paper each week.

Starting in January, we began using a video camera to record the Newton County Board of Supervisors meetings and posting them online. Videographer I am not, but the videos serve their purpose as a record of what happened at each meeting, who voted and how, and most importantly, how our elected officials are spending the taxpayers’ money.

I firmly believe transparency in government is crucial, and we are blessed in Newton County to have elected officials who are share that view. At the majority of the public meetings I attend, whether that be the county supervisors, town aldermen or school boards, I feel welcome. Most of the public officials I call are easily reachable, and the majority of my questions are answered, or a reasonable explanation is given why an answer can’t be given.

Mississippi’s Open Meetings Act allows for audio and video recordings of public meetings, but it doesn’t always work out so smoothly. The Board of Supervisors could have put up a fuss, enacted policy to keep the cameras out, at least temporarily. But they didn’t.

I’ve been guilty of speaking before I think, so I can completely understand a certain hesitancy to having a video camera capturing my every word to be immortalized on the internet. The thought is terrifying. Yet, the Board of Supervisors put aside whatever reservations they may have had and welcomed increased transparency in their board room.

If you run across your county supervisor, Chancery Clerk George Hayes, County Administrator Steve Seale or Board Attorney Jason Mangum, take a minute to thank them for showing integrity as public officials, for being willing to try new things and welcoming transparency in Newton County government.

And, if you’d like to watch a few hours of public meetings, look up The Newton County Appeal on YouTube. Have a pot of coffee ready. You’ll need it.

Thomas Howard is the managing editor of The Newton County Appeal. He can be reached at thoward@newtoncountyappeal.com