More transparency needed to change Baltimore

In Baltimore — for our children — it is imperative that we all stand together as we work in changing the future.

We know the issues facing our city. And we know the strategies that have been used, misused, overworked and unsuccessful in addressing the issues we face: racialized poverty, wealth inequities, violence, police abuse and profiling, and lack of opportunity and access for those considered most vulnerable.

At times, we look at “the elephant in the room” and it seems so huge that we are tempted to walk away. But for the sake of our city and succeeding generations we do not have that luxury.

Instead, we must take one bite at a time.

Many of our institutions work on concurrent pathways: the transactional — meeting those needs crying out for immediate attention — and the transformational, working to educate, advocate for, and collaborate with those who are willing to explore creating more equitable policies that will expand opportunities for brighter futures for those who have been historically locked out and ignored.

One “bite” that we must take in ensuring a more equitable future is addressing transparency in lobbying. Transparency in policy making creates a more level playing field between those with more direct high-level access to government and monied interests and those — more often grassroots advocacy groups representing communities of color — with limited access, limited time and limited financial support.

A more transparent system of advocating and lobbying is in the best interest of sustaining an open democracy. With the level of trust between communities — especially communities of color — and those systems that our tax dollars support eroding, democracy is in trouble. Even the perception that wealthier interests are able to buy access denied to the less affluent erodes confidence and creates structural inequities. And the fact that this has often been true is something we must change.

Our investment is in changing the future for those who will inherit what we are creating and sustaining today. We owe them our voices on this issue, because this is part of the legacy that they will inherit: a more open democracy or a closed process that undermines even the appearance of fairness.

There is a reason for the inequities that we see in Baltimore City — a long history of racialized policy decisions that have benefited those with power, access and privilege. We need to change this paradigm and stop doing “business as usual.”

If we are serious about changing Baltimore — about changing the racialized inequities, the wealth disparities, the lack of access — then we will stop bargaining with the future of our children and start creating a new beginning of increased transparency.

To this end, Associated Black Charities (ABC), a policy educator and advocate, and Common Cause, a policy education, advocacy and lobbying organization, are working with policy makers on creating more equitable processes and systems that sustain and strengthen public trust. ABC’s educational advocacy tool “Policy Applications of a Racial Equity Lens: Ten Essential Questions for Policy Development, Review, and Evaluation,” assists policy makers in their goal of creating this more “level playing field” through more transparent and equitable processes that result in more equitable policies.

The Baltimore City Council is working to create a more transparent portal so that Baltimore City citizens and others would have more open access to the process of how government is done, in addition to seeing the result of that process through policy. There should be other measures that support citizen access (many citizens cannot take off to attend City Council meetings without losing vacation time or sick leave — if they even have it), but for now, this is one that we know is under consideration.

Our citizens deserve nothing less than more transparency in government.

Diane Bell McKoy (dmckoy@abc-md.org) is president and CEO of ABC. Damon Effingham (DEffingham@commoncause.org ) is executive director of Common Cause Maryland.

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