Our View: More transparency needed for public funding
Jun 18, 2013 | 1918 views |  0 comments | 178 178 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Several elected officials in St. Clair County are calling for more transparency from the Animal Shelter of Pell City, and we think that’s a prudent way to handle the public’s business. That’s not a criticism of the shelter or its operations — we’ve heard no complaints about the services they provide.

It’s just that our elected officials have a duty to ensure that public money is wisely spent. Some say they’re finding it difficult to get the information they need to carry out that duty.

The shelter’s board of directors used to open its meetings to the public, but stopped doing that some time ago.

It is set up as a non-profit organization, and it is not required by law to hold open meetings.

Several officials suggested an audit of the shelter; the shelter agreed, if it is paid for by the governmental bodies served by the shelter. They don’t want to use funds needed for operations to pay for an audit, and we don’t blame them for that.

St. Clair County Commission Chairman Stan Batemon argued against an audit. He compared the county’s contract with the animal shelter to any other business arrangement, and said he was satisfied with the performance reports he receives from the shelter. He said the county doesn’t audit other contractors, and sees no need to treat the shelter any differently.

We think the shelter is different. It’s not a business providing services to a wide range of customers on a competitive basis. Its primary function is to provide animal shelter operations for the county and several municipalities. The shelter also receives donations from the public and fees for services.

Several officials of the municipalities are asking for more information and attendance at shelter board meetings.

We would go a step further and ask for open meetings, not just for the shelter, but for any non-profit organization receiving substantial taxpayer funding. When the door is opened to receive public funds, that door should stay open so that the public can see how the money is being used.

We don’t think that’s too much to ask.