Welcome! It’s exciting to see so many fresh faces on the dais at Town Hall. Thanks to each of you for stepping up to serve the community.

Term limits, personal conflicts and Florida’s financial disclosure law (known as Form 6) opened the door for many of you to assume new roles as town commissioners. And once

March election votes are tallied, even more may join the newcomer ranks. In a few municipalities, the end result is (or will be) an almost entirely new slate of elected and/or appointed officials.

This can be challenging.

Each election year, I make a point of sitting in during one of municipal attorney Keith Davis’ “how things work” introduction to the role of — and limits on — commission members. It refreshes my knowledge of how local government works and what access the public has to information generated by that legislative body.

I often find the requirements of the state are much broader than most local officials expect. Budgets, charters and comprehensive plans require policy-makers to follow strict guidelines when updating or making changes.

Each municipality is required to have an attorney, a manager and a clerk to help guide commissioners through the process of creating policy and away from legal dangers. These hired positions are critical to the functioning of local government. A large part of their role is to assure members of the public (including journalists) have access to records and communications.

For those without government experience, the trickiest rules to follow are often Florida’s Government-in-the-Sunshine laws on open meetings and public records.

Although these laws may seem confusing at first, they have a simple aim: Decisions should be made in public, without prejudice or favor.

And it’s good to keep in mind that most of these rules are in place because previous officials broke the law — and the residents’ trust.

So welcome aboard. As your neighborhood newspaper, we’ll see you at town meetings, talk with you when clarification is needed, challenge you when rules are sidestepped and hopefully share with readers your fresh views on how to make life along the shore safer and more desirable for everyone.

— Mary Kate Leming, Executive Editor

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