Commercial-News Editorial: Transparency essential in decisions about COVID funds

Danville’s municipal leadership is facing some of its most consequential decisions in decades in coming months as they formulate a plan to spend $25 million in COVID-19 relief funds.

That kind of money, if used wisely and efficiently, can have a major long-term impact on the community.

As Mayor Rickey Williams Jr. has said, the money can’t just be spent on anything on someone’s wish list. There are restrictions. Guidelines for use of funds must be followed.

Still, there is wide latitude, even within that framework, and it’s a process that must be taken seriously and exercised with the utmost transparency.

At a meeting of the Danville City Council last week, Mayor Williams told aldermen that his administration is looking to include the city’s closed swimming pool facility as one target for funding. He also said programs related to community mental health are another area of potential funding.

Both are excellent ideas, and the community should embrace programs related to both once the administration puts together a detailed funding proposal.

But we strongly agree with the sentiments expressed by council members Tricia Teague and Mike O’Kane that the public should have substantial input in proposing ideas.

Williams concurred and said plans to include taking public comments at council or committee meetings in October and November.

That will be a good start. More, however, can and should be done to promote public involvement in the funding process.

The city has already received its first installment of $12.3 million in American Rescue Plan funding, which was included as part of COVID-19 relief legislation passed by Congress and signed by the president last spring. It represents a substantial infusion of money into the community. The second installment of funds will come next year. The city will have until the end of 2024 to designate how the funds will be spent, and all spending must be completed by the end of 2026.

Teague suggested that special public events be considered for the sole purpose of gathering input and promoting discussion. Comment periods at council meetings can still be used, but an event designated for discussion of spending the windfall of federal funds makes sense and would undoubtedly spur more civic engagement on the issue.

The people of Danville should have an opportunity to participate and feel as though their voices have been heard and their civic leaders listened to and acted on their ideas and suggestions.

Special community meetings are a good way to do that. Transparency in government operations is essential, and city officials can take steps to provide that through a series of public meetings.

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September 17, 2021 at 11:39PM

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