Presently there is considerable disagreement within the Council on the issue of Transparency.
Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Gottschall, and Mr. Smiley were elected to office and their interests were strongly based upon a more open, TRANSPARENT, Council and Administrative organization.
The reasons were simple: residents, taxpayers and businesses need to know and understand exactly how tax-dollars are spent, how the Council is operating on their behalf; in general, there is a distrust of Local, State and Federal governments for a variety of reasons.
There too was the dismissal of the successful administrator, City Manager, Mr. Nowicki. No reason was ever given by the Mayor or Council for his dismissal. Not one valid reason was given for termination; political and personal reason were attributed by those who know. Transparency would have answered this vital question!
Additionally, personnel and public records were destroyed with no investigation and records in the Parks and Recreation Department went missing. Data files under protected passwords on computers were deleted. None of these incidents were ever questioned or investigated by the City Manager or the Council. Transparency would have answered this vital question!
It is under these circumstances that perhaps Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Smiley, and Mr. Gottschall wanted transparency of Council activities. There too is the fact that general Council’s meetings generate little resident’s attention. When property tax assessments arrive or tax increases are discussed by Council, the resident’s attention becomes intense.
Many of the controversies within the Council are self-inflicted. Favoritism in comments toward businesses and who gets what, and when they get it, has been contentious. Unfortunately, that favoritism has pitted one businesses against another to the detriment of the community.
For these reasons, there is an argument to be made for video-taping or broadcasting Council meetings. The taxpayers, residents and businesses could witness the meetings, understand the position of their elected officials on issues of concern. Video would also display the prominent as well as the occasional degenerative behavior of Councilmen over a number of issues discussed by Council.
There too is the specific issue of what is to be transparent to the community. Certainly there are laws exempting many items for public view. Most are not valid; however, Police and incidents reports of certain subjects are reasonably restricted under many circumstances. Otherwise, the tax-paying public has a right and an obligation to receive any and all information relative to their government’s operations and business activities.
Presently, all members of Council state they want transparency, but to what degree that transparency is open for public viewing is the vital question? Correspondence received by Council, whether negative or positive is rarely, or almost never, read into or published within the meeting’s minutes.
The reason is simple; negative comments are not good advertisements for the Council or the City. No Council or Administration hangs out their dirty laundry for public viewing! Unfortunately, there are times when certain “selective” Correspondence is used for political posturing.
The latest example would be a letter of Correspondence read into the minutes by the Mayor as a political blast at Councilmen: Kennedy, Gottschall and Smiley who had previously succeeded in passing a motion to video tape Council’s meetings for transparency. The Video-tape motion passed in a meeting when Two-Councilmen were absent. (Beagle/Rzeznik) The motion passed by a vote of three in favor, two against. (Hinley & Ziegler)
However, at the next meeting with a full Council present, the Video-taping measure on Transparency was rescinded on a four to three vote. Transparency by Video of Council’s meetings was defeated.
Apparently, Transparency is relative only when politically needed. The Mayor thought Transparency was good when he reached into the Correspondence pile and pulled a selective letter for public viewing. The Correspondence letter was from former defeated Councilman, Michael Giddings. He chastised the elected councilmen on their position on Transparency.
Specifically, why the Mayor did this selective reading of Correspondence of Mr. Giddings can be viewed only as politically motivated posturing. But Why? Voters elected Kennedy, Gottschell and Smiley on an issue of Transparency as well as other positions. Mr. Giddings was defeated and lost his Council seat to the next challenger by more than 351 votes! Obviously, the Mayor and the dissenting Councilmen haven’t recognized the election count or the seriousness of Transparency wanted by the voters.
The Mayor also stated that Transparency was also his interest. Perhaps his interest is limited to selective political posturing. To what extent or degree, the Mayor and the balance of Councilmen want transparency is resolved for now…to their liking. It may take another election to finally decide the question.
When embarrassing letters or materials exists, and they do, the danger to the Mayor, the Councilmen, and the Administration is that exposure creates public dissension. Therefore, there is an obvious resistance to disclosing the materials to the public. Reading Correspondence of a negative and embarrassing nature is detrimental to the individual as well as the city.
There are several considerations to be noted: residents have their right to be negative in their emotions to positions taken on issues by the Council, Mayor, or the Administration. It goes with the territory of public service. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect that Correspondence read or printed into the minutes of the Council’s meeting benefits the community.
(Take the heat or get out-of-the-kitchen)
A limitation or restriction on Correspondence would apply when there is an issue of legality pending on the misdeed or regulated by Municipal Law. The public expects no mischief or misbehavior of elected officials. If there is misadventure, exposure is essential to the public’s interests and just punishment should be anticipated. Presently, two Michigan Representatives now face repercussions from their twisted behavior while in office. Elected officials should take note.
Elected public officials staying true to appropriate personal conduct, true to the application of government principles, and to their Oath of Office is expected. When followed, there is no need to fear exposure of Correspondence by any official.
Council should adopt an appropriate way to manage Correspondence; furthermore, an appropriate ways and means to bring Council’s meetings into the homes of the residents in this digital age should be undertaken. Parents have a lot on their plates and seeing their Council in action is appropriate.
Transparency is GOOD!