Monitoring the State Board through Citizen Participation

Article excerpt

The idea of citizens participating in the processes of government is by no means a recent development in American history. Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States, expressed the belief that citizens should participate in the political processes of government, particularly in the decisions that would affect them. This concept of Jeffersonian democracy, now two centuries old, continues to be very much alive today.

For the past 30 years, we have seen the U.S. Congress enact laws that require citizen participation in policy-making decisions. Federal grant programs have mandated citizen participation, either by law or by regulations implementing the grants. We have witnessed an expansion of citizen participation far beyond anything dreamed of by the founding fathers.

Citizen Participation in Action

The National Society's program of financial assistance to affiliated state organizations that monitor their state boards of accountancy is, in a very real sense, a means of citizen participation in the processes of government. Now entering its tenth year, the monitoring program has enhanced the visibility of the affiliated state organization and prevented the adoption of rules hostile to the practice of unlicensed accountants. By attendance at state board meetings and by speaking up on issues (or filing written comments), the NSPA-affiliated state organization has protected its members' practicing rights.

Anyone who has monitored the state board will tell you that it is an exciting opportunity for service to the profession. The monitor is witness to the decision-making process practiced by appointed board members who serve as the connecting link between the governmental authority of the state and the members of their profession.

One reason for the success of the monitoring program is that the monitors easily identify with their constituency--that is, their state associations. Monitors represent their associations and are aware of the association's concerns, goals, objectives and interests. In other words, monitors have a "gut reaction" to board discussions and decisions on issues that affect their association. It is this identification with the concerns of the association that makes monitoring significant and exciting.

Monitoring also has the beneficial effect of emphasizing the board's accountability. Every board is accountable to the legislature that created it and the governor (or legislature) to whom it must report regularly. However, accountability goes beyond routine reports to the legislature. It also extends to the professional community that the board has authority to regulate. The presence of the monitor emphasizes the importance of the board's accountability because the monitor represents an association that is concerned with the board's actions.

Citizen participation--whether through monitoring or otherwise--is a time-honored process that carries with it various fundamental rights. Most of these rights are provided for as a matter of state law. For example, you have the right to be told when the board proposes to amend, adopt or repeal a regulation. You have a right to an explanation of the effects the proposed regulatory actions will have on you and your organization. You have a right to comment on the proposed action and a right to request a public hearing if none is scheduled.

Additionally, you have a right to testify at a public hearing on the proposed action and the board must consider your testimony. You also have a right to review the documentation and testimony of other persons or organizations on the proposed action. These rights provide a system of checks and balances to the regulatory process, as well as furnish an avenue for citizens' participation in the development of proposed agency action.

Citizens must be informed if they are to participate in a meaningful way in the process of government. …