April 16, 2014

GUEST COLUMN: The Constitution and accountability

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By Tom Salmon 

“The Constitution” and “accountability”—these words are used by elected officials as they try and convince the citizens that we are moving forward as a county. Another “42 dollar word” to be included in this category is transparency. Angry citizens and special interests groups that have something to potentially lose also see fit to evoke the tenets of the constitution, accountability and transparency to make their points.

The United States Constitution, of course, is more than a word or title. It is not a snowplow to get one’s agenda adhered to. It is a principled body of work, a structure, evolving for more than 222 years to help guide a nation. Simply, the constitution is a way of life; giving individuals a way to better understand their duties, their rights and responsibilities. A participatory democracy requires an informed and active populace. The constitution, in essence, tells each of us “how to do our job” in a free nation.

When I was a teacher, I would remind my students that the Constitution was a document that assisted our country in its pursuit of independence, away from British rule, and helped us stand on our own two feet. In the same breath, I would remind my East Los Angeles classroom that the reason they had to work so hard was because the rich kids had certain and undeniable advantages. This was not to discount their inalienable rights as young people, but to inspire them to work harder, to succeed in a very competitive country and global marketplace.

As their leader, I pledged to be fair, and they pledged to be honest and transparent about their efforts and situation. The relationship was productive because it fostered two-way accountability. The students had the opportunity to skirt their participatory responsibilities, but overall classroom productivity would suffer. This idea of the team suffering because people did not “do their job” was my way of teaching them about the U.S. Constitution, even if that was not the primary subject matter of the classroom.

Today in America, it is critical the U.S. Constitution inspire us to be a more perfect union, and we model to young people that there is a balance between the rights extolled and the responsibilities required of each individual in their pursuit of happiness, freedom and success. Any group trying to whip young people into frenzy over unfairness, in the name of the Constitution, is manipulating, especially if the result finds people skirting their responsibilities. This is not a time to blame others for the imperfections of a nation, but to foster and maintain accountability as American citizens.

Currently, we have a nation where approximately half the people vote and half the people pay income taxes. This is a strange contract, or form of participation, since government spending in Vermont for citizens ($2.245 billion in 2000, $5.125 billion in 2013 according to nonpartisan VTtransparency.org) has virtually exploded in its efforts to serve the people.

Rosenkranz reminds us that, “Structure, above all, is the object of the Constitution”. If the constitution fulfills such an obligation, what about the citizen?

Although we know that elections are the ultimate form of accountability in the hands of citizens regarding government officials, what is the vehicle to ask citizens to be accountable, honest and transparent? The U.S. Constitution is one such vehicle.

As an outgoing elected official, I urge all citizens to review the constitution and look in the mirror and ask if you are “doing your job” and upholding your personal responsibilities to make this a more perfect union.

 

State Auditor Tom Salmon CPA, CFE now lives in Rockingham with his wife Leslie.


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