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Transparency not expensive

Sometimes even the best ideas, when mixed with bad timing and the attempt to do too much, can have a result that which is less than hoped.

That is exactly what happened when the Lawrence County Commission chose to spend nearly $20,000 on videotaping and electronic archiving equipment that will make meetings, documents and other records available to the public online.

The idea was that this would greatly increase the transparency of the county government, make documents more available to everyone and create a lasting archive system.

And it will. But the question remains: Was it worth it?

Most taxpayers would agree that, during the current economic climate that will pose challenges for local government as the year goes along, the answer is no.

The commission absolutely has the right idea about the need for more public access to what is going on, but the reality is that an overwhelming majority of citizens will never utilize this or benefit from it.

The system they put in place is certainly high-tech and offers lots of features. But, as the old cliche goes, you can’t have “champagne tastes on a beer budget.”

That is what has happened here.

The county constantly asks officeholders to trim their budgets, often has to juggle funds to make the timing of payroll and essentially had to sell key assets last year to get out of a massive financial hole.

So, to then spend this kind of money on something that certainly would be looked at as a luxury rather than a necessity, simply doesn’t make sense.

The county could have accomplished much of the same thing with a $500 video recorder, $300 in software, a document scanner and just a few hours work.

It wouldn’t have been as good but it would have been a positive compromise without sending the wrong message to taxpayers.

The commissioners knew they were going to take a public beating from this and they had the guts to do what they felt was right. That is commendable.

But, sometimes even a potential right decision can just come at the wrong time.