Editorial: Best practices in government

Posted 6/7/23

A year ago, no one could have imagined that the Barrington School Committee would quickly become the model for openness in government.

For much of the past five years, that board was mired in …

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Editorial: Best practices in government


A year ago, no one could have imagined that the Barrington School Committee would quickly become the model for openness in government.

For much of the past five years, that board was mired in controversy. In a series of one highly contentious issue after another, it agitated parents and alienated faculty. Many of its meetings turned nasty, with the angry and perturbed lining up to vent, question or cajole.

Half a year later, so much has changed. Under new leadership, things have quieted down, and its meetings are entirely different. The board today operates as well as any local board could, following many of the best practices for government in 2023.

Many of the practices were in place before last fall’s election, but others have been added since. Today the Barrington School Committee sends email reminders of its meetings to everyone in the community, with a link to its agenda. The agenda itself includes links to backup materials, like reports, memos and presentations.

They live-stream their meetings, and the public is welcome to join the public comment sessions via Zoom. According to an audit by the Rhode Island ACLU, Barrington and Portsmouth are the only school committees in the state allowing this level of access. Importantly, Barrington anchored the timing of its public comment session, so visitors don’t have to guess when they might be allowed to speak — they can plan on 6:30 p.m. the night of the meeting.

Finally, Barrington posts and archives the recordings of its meetings. Everything is there for see, logged into an historical record.

Many of the local boards in this community and others are doing some of the things mentioned above, but few are doing all. The Portsmouth Town Council and Middletown Town Council are two of the few. Along with the Barrington School Committee, they are setting an example of how government today can be open, flexible and accommodating to the people it serves.

Under the duress of a pandemic and with advances in technology, government learned it can open itself to the public in a multitude of ways. Using the tools of virtual communication, it can allow busy parents to follow and join the decision-making process without sacrificing four hours to sit in a public chamber on a crowded week night. It can allow those recovering from a surgery, or those temporarily or permanently disabled, to be part of the process from the comfort of their home. It can allow those without means, those with no car, to feel part of their community, to be better-informed citizens.

The local boards and commissions not following these best practices should audit themselves and ask why not, and what more they could do. Let the Barrington School Committee be a role model. They made their meetings more open and more flexible, and as a result, they made their meetings better.

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.