SCOTTSBLUFF — In a workshop-style meeting, the Scottsbluff City Council Monday night heard from the executive director of the League of Nebraska Municipalities.
L. Lynn Rex came to Scottsbluff to give the presentation as a review of sorts for the council that seated three new members in December. Rex said over the years, a number of cities have requested presentations on any number of subjects, such as tax increment financing or open meetings act. For Scottsbluff, Monday night was an opportunity to cover a number of subjects that have to do with city council meetings, the role of the League of Municipalities as well as the role of the council and the citizens within the city government.
“It is really important to make sure, as a statewide organization, that we’re across the state,” Rex said. “It’s not just whatever happens in Lincoln. During the legislative session, we don’t spend a lot of time across the state, but after the session, we do a lot of them.”
Rex said it has become more and more important that public officials and the public itself know their rights and responsibilities as information becomes more accessible to the public than it was 40, 30, even 20 years ago. Citizens can watch video recordings of meetings online to get a more complete picture of what happened in any given meeting.
“The days (are gone) when you would come to a city council meeting or a village board meeting and only the people there really had knowledge of what occurred other than if they read the minutes afterwards,” she said. “That doesn’t always give you a complete picture. It gives you a good picture, but maybe not a complete picture. Now, the world with social media, with all of the opportunities of television, everything else, it’s really important to make sure that folks learn as much as they can about the government. I think it’s great — the more transparency, the better it is.”
Some of the least-attended meetings for any municipality are often the budget meetings — among the most important meetings the board will have. Rex said she would like to see that change.
“I think that’s one of the overall most disappointing things that elected officials will tell you, is typically, not always, but typically, the overwhelming lack of response when it comes to adoption of the budget, which is the most important document that a city council or village board will ever adopt, because that sets the tone for whatever the priorities are for the rest of the year.”
Rex said that trend holds true not only for smaller, local councils and boards, but also for the state Legislature as an example. Although it doesn’t now, there was a time when the Legislature would debate what would go on the state license plate.
“They would spend days talking about that,” Rex said. “An afternoon on the budget, and days on should it be a cow? Should it be beef? Should it be football? Should it be a crane? Should it be a tree for Arbor Day? You know, everybody understands that. I do think that something that’s more personal, that’s going to affect a person individually, or they know about it and they understand it, they’re more likely to participate in it. Same reason why garbage pickup is a big issue in Omaha. How many bins do you get? What color are they going to be? People really, really care about that. Their budget meeting? Not so much.”