Streamline Blog

Being a special district isn't always so special

Posted by Sloane Dell'Orto | March 22, 2016

If you're one of the few people who haven't seen the John Oliver video poking fun at special districts, watch it (click on the video below this paragraph), and then finish reading this. But be warned: if you're involved in special district work, it can be hard to watch.


I come from a small town and I know it can be hard to run a special district well. Between the state mandates, small budgets, small (or non-existent) staff, providing the services you need to provide with the constraints you're under can be hard. And when you're a big district, the stakes are even higher.

Complying with state mandates like SB 272 and the Brown Act, and following Robert's Rules of Order–basically, doing everything right–can be a real pain. So when John Oliver makes fun of the two-man mosquito district video (guys doing it right!), it makes me mad.

Yet watching the video has to make you laugh a bit, too. It's a painful, I-hope-no-one-is-looking kind of laugh. It's close enough to the truth in some aspects that you just can't help it. 

And yet.

From our perspective, it's been interesting trying to learn about special districts across the country. In California it's been much easier, due to our fantastic relationship with the California Special District Association. But we've reached out to many states that don't even know they have special districts (they do), or states that know they have special districts but don't know who they are. And states who are complaining about the lack of transparency but don't know what to do about it.

It's understandable that people are clamoring for transparency for local government. We get that, maybe more than most. We're betting our entire business model on being able to reach these organizations, and help them to communicate with their citizens inexpensively and predictably. 

We want to change the conversation, to get the barriers out of the way so that these groups that are providing essential services are not only able to be transparent, but are also able to be celebrated for all they do. Transparency works to expose things that are hidden–not just the financial things that people are clamoring for, but the mission-driven, service-oriented things that citizens need to know about, too. 

Transparency serves everyone. We just need to figure out how to make it achievable. The good news is that we're moving that direction, along with a brave group of dedicated clients helping us lead the way.

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