Transparency matters.

The public has a long history of demanding its government operate in full sunlight.

That's the reason you can usually walk into any local government meeting and watch without harassment.

It's in this spirit that we're seeking more transparency from the Mason City School Board.

In its handling of the state's audit into its finances -- particularly the improper disbursements totaling $2.2 million -- the board has shown a decided reluctance to share information.

An editorial by the Globe Gazette in mid-2016, written after the board -- in a 3-minute meeting -- unanimously voted to part ways with then-Superintendent Anita Micich, blasted members for holding a number of closed door sessions and then failing entirely after the fact to shed any light on why the board wanted Micich gone. 

A public information request from the Globe Gazette for the emails of board and district leadership brought the issue into the light. That same request also unearthed for the first time what would ultimately become the improper payout of the $2.2 million.

Fast forward to the board's April 1 meeting when, according to its agenda, it planned to discuss the results of the state audit that fully uncovered the extent of the financial record-keeping misdeeds.

It spent some time discussing the need to reimburse Clear Lake School District, which had not been fully reimbursed for the overpayment it made to Mason City for Micich's work as its part-time superintendent. The amount it voted on was about $6,000.

It spent time discussing the underpayment the audit discovered of eight district employees. That vote was on $24,182.99.

Finally, there was discussion of paying back the state for the cost of the in-depth audit that found all the discrepancies. That vote covered $19,985.87.

But when board member Scott Warren inquired about the board's intention with regard to the $2.2 million, he was essentially brushed off -- told it would be addressed at a "later date."

That's a lot of taxpayer money to put off determining whether to recoup.

Additional pressing by the Globe Gazette after the board meeting yielded that there is no time frame for that discussion, according to Superintendent Dave Versteeg. Versteeg added that the "improper disbursements" weren't overpayments to employees, but rather improper procedures by the district.

It appears Versteeg is suggesting that the money belongs in the pockets of those employees but that the district didn't use the appropriate process to put it there.

To be fair, there is an ongoing criminal investigation into the disbursements -- a point that was raised by board member Jacob Schweitzer at the April 1 meeting. 

Generally, it would be prudent to wait for the conclusion of such an investigation to make further financial decisions on matters related to it.

We get that.

But that's not the message the public was given on April 1. In fact, it seems there really wasn't a message offered at all.

And the $2.2 million is still gone.

The importance of a commitment to transparency is not rooted in some sort of salacious desire for inside information or to gain fodder for personal attacks.

It's to prevent the encroachment of government on the rights of the people. One of those rights is to know how the government spends our money.

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Local editorials represent the opinion of the Globe Gazette editorial board, which consists of Publisher Samuel Gett, Editor David Mayberry, and Regional Editor Jim Cross. Contact the board or send letters to news@globegazette.com.


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