THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)
Election Transparency a Top Priority for New Saginaw County Clerk
Posted In: News, Local, From Issue 909 By: Vanessa Guerra
18th February, 2021 0
Forty days into my first term in office and I feel like I’ve barely made a dent. I know that forty days is a small fraction of the four years voters have given me to prove myself, but I refuse to give credence to the old adage that “government moves slow.” To aid me in my pursuit of improved public service, I have a whiteboard in my office where I have written down all of my campaign promises so that every day I am reminded of the work I have committed to.
Looking at these proposals helps in keeping me accountable and on track so that I may make these goals a reality. My proposals can be narrowed down into three categories: increasing convenience, improving transparency, and enhancing civic engagement.
Serving in the State House I was able to learn from other communities and elected officials about the way they utilize technology and social media to make their government services more convenient for residents.
I firmly believe government has the ability to make peoples’ lives easier and more convenient, so long as we have officials in leadership who are deeply committed to that vision. People live busy lives, they don't have time nor should they be forced to take half a day off of work to utilize their government services. In 2021, every transaction with our county should be as seamless as making a purchase online.
Prior to entering the Clerk’s Office, many of my proposed improvements were small: things like extending the hours our office is open, partnering with the Secretary of State’s office to provide on-site clerk services at SOS branches, and creating satellite office hours at local clerk’s offices so that residents don’t have to make an extra trip to the county building.
These items remain a priority, however what I did not expect upon starting at the county was that the technology we utilize is decades behind where it should be. Fortunately, the county is currently undergoing a systems upgrade which will make the “clerk on the road” services I seek to implement much easier. Providing on-site services and making the county website more user friendly are small potatoes, but they’re essential to ensuring that our county residents are serviced in a convenient and efficient manner; precisely what taxpayers demand and deserve of their government.
Beyond making county services more convenient, there are also small ways we can make our work more transparent as well. I have been campaigning on increased transparency since my first campaign in 2012. I remember at that time, some elected officials took my calls for greater transparency to suggest that things were not already transparent. Perhaps I could have been subtler in my approach, but in my opinion government doesn't get a day off when it comes to improving our services or our status in the community.
The moment we start to think we have achieved 100% of anything, convenience, transparency or engagement, it’s time we start thinking about what more we could do.
Public service is a commitment to innovation.
Other small ways we can increase transparency at the county level include creating an online database for campaign finance reports. I think voters are becoming more aware of the role money plays in politics and have an increased appetite to learn more about how campaigns are funded.
My desire to create access to this information is not a suggestion that any of our local candidates are hiding anything. Campaign finance reports are public information and at any time a resident could come to our office in-person and ask for that information. But in 2021, when other counties in Michigan already have created such online access for their residents, why can’t Saginaw County do it for ours? The answer is we can, we just have to be willing to dedicate the time and resources to create this access.
Another small change that I discussed in my campaign was taking on the role of serving as Clerk to the County Board of Commissioners. I categorized this goal under transparency because serving as Clerk to the Board ensures there are checks and balances in place when decisions are being made for the county.
State law specifies that the County Clerk serves as Clerk to the County Board, but the law allows the County Clerk to delegate that duty to a deputy. Here in Saginaw County, our County Clerks have historically chosen to delegate that duty to a member of the Board’s staff. I chose to reclaim the role of Clerk to the Board because I think it is important that the minutes of the Board are reviewed by someone who does not work for the Board of Commissioners.
While there is nothing that leads me to believe there have been improper filings of minutes in our county, if we have the ability to create one more level of accountability, as government officials we are obligated to do that. The board staff remains responsible for organizing the meetings, taking minutes and preparing board packets. I am grateful they have been willing to work with me on this change. I think initially board members and staff were understandably curious of my desire to clerk the board; I explained to them however that it was important to me to completely fulfill my statutory duties as clerk.
Serving as Clerk to the County Board has been an educational experience for me and has pushed me to improve my parliamentary procedure skills. I want to ensure anyone watching the County Board meetings knows that we run transparent and efficient meetings here in Saginaw County. I have recently started online classes in my personal time to become accredited as a nationally recognized “Registered Parliamentarian.” This accreditation will not only be of benefit to our County Board of Commissioners, but it will also allow me to offer parliamentary consulting services through the Clerk’s Office to Saginaw County residents and organizations. I have always considered myself a lifelong learner and I am very excited about this opportunity to diversify my skills while also creating another service available to our residents.
Down the road, I hope to work with our commissioners to make our commission meetings available online via Facebook or at a minimum, available on our county website. Some county boards of commission record their meetings and provide either the audio or video recordings of their meetings on the county website. This would be helpful to those residents who are interested in learning more about what our county commission does but perhaps do not have the time to attend board meetings in-person. Board session minutes are currently available online or residents can make an appointment to see them in-person, but if we can increase ease of access for residents, we should.
My desires to improve transparency transcend to our elections processes as well. One of my goals in my first term is to become a nationally Certified Elections Registration Administrator (CERA). Nothing is more important than the security and administration of our electoral process; by becoming nationally certified I can keep my skills sharp by learning and implementing the most up to date election security information available.
The Saginaw County Clerk’s Office, in conjunction with all of our local clerks, ran an accurate and secure election in 2020. My desire to pursue this certification is simply one more extra step I can take as a public official so that residents know our office continues to do all that we can to maintain secure elections.
Adding one more certification to my resume is helpful, but I know that is not enough to make people feel confident in our system, particularly after allegations made in 2020. Moving forward, our office will also focus more heavily on the creation of an “Election Training Academy.” This program will assist in preparing residents to either work as election day workers, or simply learn more about how elections are conducted in our county. This will not only increase civic education in our county, but also create a database of Saginaw County residents willing to serve as election day workers. The County Clerk’s office has provided training in years past, so I see these academies as an opportunity to build upon and improve the work that is already being done here.
I will be the first to tell you that many of the reforms I have proposed will not make for earth-shattering change, and I am certainly not the first person to ever propose these ideas. Nonetheless, while my campaign promises may make for small changes, I know over time they will build up to huge improvements across the board for residents as they engage with their county government.
I am passionate about public service and attempt every day to see the work we do through the lens of a resident on the other side of the counter or the citizen on the other side of the voting machine. Were they greeted when they entered the building? Did they leave feeling like they accomplished what they sought out to do? Do they trust our processes?
Rome wasn’t built in a day and Saginaw County won’t modernize overnight, but if given the opportunity, I’m here for the long haul. I am committed to ensuring our residents have every convenience and service that Michiganders across our state currently enjoy. I am confident this is a sentiment shared by other county leaders and I look forward to working with them as we bring Saginaw County into the future.
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THE NEW GILDED AGE (Part 2)