Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Lack of Open Government, Again?

"Out of their own mouths shall they be condemned."

Listen to this amazing exchange of our city government . The laughter at the beginning is because President Kathy Graziano said "we are going to be interviewing candidates for Ellen's seat" instead of correctly saying Delores McQuinn's seat. Give it a listen, it's just under 15 minutes. This is from today's informal session which began at 3:17 pm, this portion of audio comes from two hours and 12 minutes into the meeting. At forty seconds into this recording Valerie Salaam, Council policy advisor (one of Council's four policies advisors), describes the process that will be used to select the next Council person from the 7th District. Ms. Salaam delivers the bombshell at 2:40 in the recording, "The interviews, as well as any further discussion and consideration of candidates will all be held in Closed Session." The supposed reason for this according to President Graziano (6:00) was that since the same questions would be asked of each candidate there was a chance for a later candidate to get the questions in advance. It is possible.

Then Mr. Bruce Tyler said that Council members should return the draft questions which had been circulated among Council members five minutes before and President Graziano agreed and told Council members not to share the questions.

Mr. Chris Hilbert (8:20) said, "I find this whole process to be distasteful. No one in the 7th District elected any one of us. I find it particularly awkward to have to pick a representative for the residents of that district.... This process is going to be rife with potential pitfalls and pratfalls. And to the extent that it is closed we are going to invite that much more abuse to be heaped upon us. I would say that I rather this process to be open."

President Graziano defended her position (9:50) by saying that such political appointments are "made in backrooms, with no interviews, no questionairres" and cited recent national events such as the Rod Blagojevich scandal.

I would counter, there is not much difference in a decision made by one person or eight people, it is simply undemocratic. And why would you want to obscure citizen participation in the process and the desireable goal of open government. President Graziano says she wants to put the candidates on a level playing field. Why not provide all questions to all candidates. That would test a candidate's ability to prepare and find information. A valuable skill for a politician. If you want to make it more difficult give it to them 24 hours before, so they can cram like students before a final exam.

Mr. Hilbert asked "Is this the only discussion we are going have on the process?" (11:10) President Graziano said it was unless he wanted to have a special meeting. Mr. Hilbert started to offer a motion, but Graziano interupted and offered to do a poll -- 3 polls were performed at the informal session today. Turns out only Mr. Hilbert and Mr. Charles Samuels were the only individuals on City Council who supported an open process. I wonder if the people of the 7th District would prefer? If you live in the 7th District, leave a comment.

Mr. Marty Jewell, my Councilman, said, "It's not going to trouble me one way or the other, I'm just curious about the rationale for the open process."

Mr. Hilbert responded, "I think there's been all sorts of discussions about some kind of backroom deal and blah, blah, blah ... I would rather us just have an open meeting about it... under the principle, Let's be as transparent as we possibly can be about this indelicate situation."

Mr. Jewell doesn't mind the task at hand because "we've a process that appears to me to be a lot cleaner than what we're looking at nationally. So, I'm alright with it."

Mr. Tyler chimed in, justifying that this was the same process he (as former-chair of Governmental Operations along with Mr. Doug Conner and Mr. Jewell) used in the selection of the members to the Charter Review Commission, another public body operating nearly in secret in plain sight and open to the public. He also used the lame defense about the last person to interview having the opportunity of taking notes while others were answering questions (13:40).

Do you know what is seriously lacking in decisions such as this and other Council matters? There are discussions that go on where there is absolutely no opportunity for citizens to tell the Council members where they are going wrong. Without the benefit of public comment, they are neither called out nor held accountable for actions that involve more than just themselves. This is a fundamental flaw in our government and as it is stated I hope others will become aware of the problem.

Well citizens of the 7th District, you certainly don't deserve this.

1 comment:

  1. I've been a citizen of the 7th district for nearly 9 years now and have little regard for the leadership that was in place. I thank Mr.Hilbert and Mr. Samuels for supporting an open process. My question to the rest of the city council members is not why should there be an open process but rather why shouldn't there be one? Transparency folks! Transparency, otherwise it is all shadowy politicking.