In Government We Trust?

Author
Tracey Potts
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The Institute of Public Policy recently hosted the Second Annual Partners in Governance conference, held April 21, 2016 at the University Club, Reynolds Alumni Center at the University of Missouri.

The Institute of Public Policy, housed within the Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs, partnered with the Missouri Municipal League and the Center for Ethics in Public Life to sponsor this year’s conference. “In Government We Trust?” explored the complex themes of trust versus vigilance in the management of a democratic society.

The conference began with a welcome by moderator, Brian Dabson, Associate Dean and Director of the Institute of Public Policy, Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs and Kathy Rose, Mayor, Riverside and MML Vice President. Wally Siewert, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Ethics in Public Life, University of Missouri – St. Louis followed with the opening talk, “Trust as a Public Value“.  Questions raised in his talk centered on issues of trust in the public arena such as; what does it mean to have trust in government? What does the public “entrust” the government with? What are the consequences of a lack of trust? Where does the value of “trust” fit in with the broader values at stake?

Media Panelists William Freivogel, Professor and Former Director, School of Journalism, Southern Illinois University; Jason Hancock, Capitol Correspondent,Kansas City Star; and Ryan FamulinerNews Director, KBIA Mid-Missouri Public Radio offered commentary in the first panel called Trust in Me(dia), concerning the media’s role in the democratic process.

While citizens visit social media and on-demand news outlets to stay current on news and entertainment, and with the blurring of these genres, where does this leave the idea of trust in the electorate? What should be the media’s role in the democratic process? How should government officials navigate these “swirling waters”? Jim Robertson, Managing Editor of the Columbia Tribune, has been a participant and observer in the discourse between the public, press and those in public office for almost 30 years. Mr. Robertson shared his perspectives on the continuing tensions between trust and accountability, government effectiveness and citizen participation, and serious reporting and sensational entertainment during the keynote address.

Building and maintaining roads and bridges are basic government functions that are costly and require long-term investment. Federal, state, and local governments often are jointly responsible and there is ongoing contention over priorities, funding sources, and economic, community, and environmental impacts. In this mix, trust in government can be undermined if citizen interests are not seen to be served, or expenses and benefits are not equitably shared.

Transportation panelists David Slater, Mayor, Pleasant Valley, Ron Achelpohl, Director of Transportation and Environment, Mid-America Regional Council, and Jay Wunderlich, Director of Governmental Relations, Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission discussed these issues and more during the second panel of the conference. 

With the increased use of social media, governments are called upon to address rumors and accusations 24/7. The third panel, moderated by Laura Holloway, Communications Specialist, Missouri Municipal League was comprised of public information officers from across the state, addressed how to navigate public messages through the whirlwind of information and misinformation.

Communication Panelists Nicolette Brennan, Public Information Officer, Cape Girardeau, David Luther, Director of Communications, Missouri Association of School Administrators and Mark Siettmann, Director of Communications, Jackson County commented on these topics during the final panel of the day.

Dan Ross, Executive Director of the Missouri Municipal League offered closing comments and wrapped up the conference, inviting attendees to continue the discussion and opportunities for networking at the Heidelberg.

 

Content contributed by Ramona Huckstep, MML