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Our view: Public dollars should always be in full view

What follows has nothing to do with any current Altoona Area School District administrator or school board member.

However, what happened with the Altoona board and district administrators of about 50 years ago remains as relevant and instructive today for any governmental entity, agency, group, contractor or individual spending public dollars as it was back then.

Let us take a brief trek back into history to grasp some understanding of what should exist today on one front, but on that front apparently is somewhat lacking.

We will reveal up front that this editorial ultimately deals with the Southern Alleghenies Planning and Development Commission, which serves the counties of Blair, Cambria, Bedford, Somerset, Huntingdon and Fulton.

We will make the connection later how a situation about 50 years ago, if its lessons were remembered and heeded at this time, could have helped avert a lapse in transparency and the apparent embarrassment and suspicions it has generated — without any clue how long the unfortunate situation might continue to prevail.

Nonetheless, the Mirror feels comfortable reflecting about the many positive outcomes over the decades for which the commission has had involvement. No judgment call of any questionable nature ever should have been allowed to invade the positive history the commission has “written” for so many decades.

Now, about that Altoona School District instructive event so long ago:

Back then, each reporter attending a board meeting, upon his or her arrival, received a detailed packet of information dealing with the topics on the agenda.

However, at one particular meeting, the board voted to approve an administrative salary schedule, with no discussion about what that action meant and nothing specific in the reporters’ packet pertaining to it. The vote was handled in such quick, routine fashion that the action got lost amid other seemingly more important business.

Except that one board member strongly disagreed with how the matter was handled and tipped off a reporter a day or so later that there was more to that approval than what the board had revealed.

Specifically, the new salary schedule consisted of raises for administrators that might have raised the eyebrows of numerous district taxpayers during that year when some board members were seeking re-election.

The situation was exacerbated when a district assistant superintendent — who also received a raise — subsequently refused the reporter’s request for a copy of the salary schedule since it was public information.

No board member was ousted in the election that year, but the embarrassment that the situation generated was very inconsistent with the record of transparency that the board had compiled up to that time.

Now, the Southern Alleghenies Commission finds itself as an object of scrutiny as the result of its refusal to be transparent amid spending thousands of public dollars fighting the release of basic information dealing with broadband expansion across its six counties.

According to an article in last Monday’s Mirror, a court battle is ongoing about a public records request filed by an area civic group — the records being sought usually considered routine and hardly controversial.

It was public dollars that paid for the initially secret Altoona School District administrative raises a half-century ago. What about broadband expansion in the six counties is making it such a touchy subject today?

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