The Alabama chapter of the League of Women Voters honored Mobile City Councilwoman Bess Rich for her accessibility and responsiveness as an elected official.
Rich accepted the league’s Transparency in Government award on Saturday during the group’s biennial conference, held this year in Mobile.
State LWV President Dr. Anne Permaloff said Rich, who was nominated by a District 6 constituent, embodies what transparency in government is all about.
Rich is available to constituents through a web page, an email newsletter and several personal meetings, Permaloff noted.
“She presents a picture of someone trying to communicate,” Permaloff said. “A lot of politicians don’t do that.”
What Rich was doing on a local level “really impressed the board,” she added, given the councilwoman beat out a number of nominees holding state positions.
“She did the kind of things that really impressed us,” Permaloff said.
On a number of occasions while serving on the council Rich has shown an affinity for public input. Some notable examples include the number of hearings held on a proposed ordinance to control the sale of dogs at area flea markets, and a round of meetings held to discuss proposed zoning changes in relation to the permitting of “tank farms,” among others.
In reference to the tank farms, specifically, Rich said the city allowing certain tank farms to be “grandfathered in” around city regulations was an issue that needed to have an “open dialogue” because it impacted residents’ quality of life.
With both issues, she said there had to be a balance between interests and concerns.
“ … You just need to hear from all affected,” she said.
Rich also said she was excited to hear she had won the state award, assuming at first it came from the local chapter. She said it means a lot because the League of Women Voters is “all about good governance.”
Rich said she feels her position on council allows her to be more proactive when it comes to citizens in the district and throughout the city. Transparency is one of the reasons she ran in the first place.
“I do a weekly newsletter, neighborhood meetings in the district and I try to explain why I vote the way I do on issues,” she said. “You can’t make decisions in a vacuum.”
Greater attempts to be transparent have not only had an impact on residents in District 6 but all over the city, Rich said. Elected officials are much more accessible now than when she first took office.
For instance, she said, there is a lot more information online, all councilors have weekly newsletters and the meetings themselves are streamed online. Rich said unlike when the meetings were broadcast over cable, residents can access the online stream live with only a computer and access to the web.
The Transparency in Government Award was established in 2015 to promote greater transparency in Alabama. It is awarded biennially.