Back in the USSR
11/07/2014 - Editorial by Renee Wilkins
The shift from an open, transparent city government to one of control is taking place. It all began with a push to move decision-making to special committees. Now we are seeing attempts to prevent Governing Body members from gaining access to vital information and threats to exclude them from staff support.
It was supposedly all about inclusion. Yet, when the first Special Committee on Social Media convened in July, they refused to make the meetings open to the public or media. Peculiar, since the previous formal method of using task forces, open to the public and properly noticed, served the same purpose and complied with the Open Meetings Act.
At the recent Governing Body Work Session on Social Media, Councilor Cheryl Everett, the Committee Chair, with the support of City Manager, Keith Riesberg, repeatedly attempted to steer the conversation away from in-depth questions and limit discussion to choosing one of three options presented by the Committee. According to the Open Meetings Act, committees not operating in accordance with the Act should be fact-finding only. Even more disturbing is that the chosen “Option 2” will reduce coverage of all board and commission meetings to podcast (audio) only. Information obtained post-work session also revealed that some of the presented data was filtered and Social Media budget funds were altered for presentation purposes. This diminishes the value of some good ideas coming from the Committee. It also underscores the need for all Governing Body members to have the opportunity to review the original data used to reach conclusions.
Flash forward to the October 22nd Governing Body meeting, where a new Special Committee on Impact Fees was implemented. Councilor Wilkins requested copies of the same documents being provided to the new committee. In a strange six minute response, the City Manager stated that it would “be duplicative of the efforts…undermines the intent of the committees…” and so on. Guess we’re supposed to take their word for everything.
Our City Manager may not be Joseph Stalin, but there does seem to be a very concerted effort to keep members of the Governing Body in the dark. When pressed on the issue in an email, the City Manager responded, “If I have Governing Body members performing their own analysis and recommendations independent of the Special Committee, they will have to do so without staff support.” Really? The City Charter states under the Duties and Powers of the City Manager Section 3.07, Paragraph I, “Provide staff support services for the Mayor and Governing Body”. This is not the first time in recent months that the City Manager has disregarded the Charter or ordinances. In September he made the decision to bring the City’s new Re-Use Water Ordinance directly to the Governing Body, circumventing the requirement to go through the Utilities Commission first.
This erosion of access to information reveals the truth beneath - When someone pops the life preserver of carefully packaged and presented information, many Staff and Committee recommendations will not float on their own. Now, more than ever, we need strong individuals asking tough questions.
Do svidaniya, Comrades
Update: A few days after this article was written, we learned that the City Manager and Staff have acknowledged the problem with the most recent special committee and work session on social media, and they have made an effort to correct part of the problem by bringing it forward to the Governing Body as a discussion item rather than a resolution to adopt "Option 2". This is a step in the right direction.