Letter to the editor: Candidate owns up to filing error
When I ran for school board in March, I started out trying to keep up with campaign filings, but honestly, I fell behind. The vast majority of my expenses were self-funded, though I did receive a handful of donations, which I greatly appreciated. By the time I lost, and there were still filings due, I let it slip. I figured that, in reality, probably no one really cared how a losing candidate had spent what was primarily his own money in a local school board campaign.
Recently, however, I got an inquiry about it from the state. A citizen had looked for the filings, found they didn’t all seem to be there, and inquired about it with state offices. In this case, the state included a record of the inquiry that listed the person’s name, someone I knew. Given that information, I reached out to that person to let them know they were one hundred percent correct, and that I should have filed the information in the first place. I gathered all of the records, sent them in to the state, filed the relevant forms, and forwarded all of the information to the person who made the inquiry. The files are now all available on the state’s campaign finance website.
I am making this public in part just so that people know they can get the information if they want it, or at least can be reassured that it is where it needs to be. But I am also providing this as an example of how to respond when an inquiry comes in regarding a lack of transparency in public life. It is OK to say, “This is on me. I was wrong, and I messed up. I will fix it as soon and as well as I can.” And then to follow through.
Sometimes that response may come with consequences. That is part of life. I am now “on notice” with the state, if I decide to run for any state or local office in Vermont again. That is on me, and it is just something I have to accept.
I want to encourage the leaders of our school district to respond in a similar way to inquiries about transparency. It doesn’t matter where each of us falls on any issue. Transparency has to be the baseline. We have many complicated issues facing us, from hiring and onboarding a new superintendent, to budgeting after the drop-off of federal recovery funds, to major changes in how special education services are provided to our kids. We will come out stronger from navigating these issues if we do everything we can to demonstrate transparency along the way.
In the end, there are two ways to build a foundation of transparency. The first is through formal methods, by requesting and providing access to public information. But the second, far more important way is to build transparency as a culture. That means speaking plainly, responding openly to questions and inquiries, and continuing to raise and emphasize the need for transparency in all public settings. And it means, where there may have been lapses in transparency in the past, it is OK to acknowledge it and to fix it. Indeed, what better way to build trust than to show we are willing to swallow our own anxiety in order to be up front with others. It’s a lesson we teach our kids, and one we can instill best by our own example.
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