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CoastLine: Trust In Government And The Role Of Transparency

Thalian Hall / City Hall, City of Wilmington, NC

Trust in the federal government is in the low double digits.  That’s according to a September 2018 Gallup Poll.   It’s not a sudden phenomenon, though.  

The Government Finance Officers Association reports that trust in people who hold public office has been declining steadily over the past 15 years.  But Gallup tells us that despite declining trust in the federal government, Americans have significantly more faith in their local governments.  

Some of the reasons people are more likely to trust municipal government include greater citizen access – face-to-face interactions -- with both elected officials and employees.  Local governments also manage roadway improvements, waste and recycling services, maintain public safety and parks, and develop local policy – impacting the quality of citizens’ lives – often in a more tangible way.

In delivering these services, local governments also seek public engagement.  Media stories about which highway improvement projects might get funded according to a mathematical prioritization scheme, unless very publicly controversial, can turn decidedly dry, un-sexy, and generate little public interest.  All that – despite the fact the information is often easily accessible. 

Are citizens empowered by the availability of the information?  Do they engage?  Do they have the time and interest?  Does more transparency lead to increased civic engagement?


Malissa TalbertCommunications Manager, City of Wilmington

Perry JamesCPA, financial and operational consultant with the North Carolina League of Municipalities. He is also the former Chief Financial Officer for the City of Raleigh and has worked with the Government Finance Officers Association:  http://gfoa.org/