The resolution passed last week by the South Bend Common Council is a solid idea you might think that everyone would support.
After all, every public official we’ve ever spoken with claims to be a huge supporter of transparency, of encouraging members of the public to be engaged about what’s being done in their name.
The council is aiming for more public disclosure and public input into how tax increment financing money is spent as the city uses it to pay for more things.
The non-binding resolution, which passed Monday on a 6-2 vote, asks the city’s redevelopment commission to move its biweekly meetings from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. or later, in an effort to make it easier for taxpayers who work during the day to attend. The resolution also asks the commission to allow public comment on each item on a meeting’s agenda as it’s being considered by the commission.
Currently, the commission, which controls TIF spending, builds no public comment period into its meetings and is not required by state law to do so.
But officials don’t need to be prodded by state law to do right by the public.
As council member Jo Broden noted, the resolution “aligns with both the administration’s goal to be transparent and also to empower residents, in that they have agency in affecting any business that’s the city’s.”
She’s right, especially when you consider the power wielded by the redevelopment commission, which has three members appointed by the mayor, two appointed by the council and one member appointed by the South Bend Community School Corp. board.
Historically, TIF money has been spent on infrastructure to facilitate more growth in that area. But in recent years, officials have gotten more creative — perhaps too creative for some residents. The subject of TIF spending is a hot-button one for taxpayers, drawing reactions ranging from ire to confusion.
Resolution co-sponsor Karen White sees an “educational” function to the measure. “There tends to be a lot of misunderstanding in regards to the role of the council and also the role of redevelopment, so this clarifies that,” she said.
It isn’t clear whether the commission will adopt the changes. Dan Bruckenmeyer, from the city’s Department of Community Investment, told the council that the daytime meeting times work best for those who come before the city staff — as well as city staff itself. It was also noted that there was “zero uptick” in public or media attendance when the meetings were changed to 4 p.m. several years ago.
But the key is providing the opportunity for residents to attend, not just waving the idea away. If even a couple of people attend the meetings, that’s a win for open government. It means putting action behind oft-repeated words about a commitment to transparency — even if it’s a bit inconvenient.
Because a measure that aims to make the work of a commission that determines how millions of taxpayer dollars are spent more accessible — and attempts to demystify TIF at the same time — is something that everyone can get behind.
Or it should be.