03/09/13 — Let light shine: Open government keeps everybody honest

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Let light shine: Open government keeps everybody honest

Four hours of closed session.

A decision on a controversial problem with  the Wayne County payroll system with zero      discussion in public.

Commissioners who openly expressed that they wanted to have a discussion about the issue "in closed session."

And after all of that, four sentences released as the minutes from a four-hour discussion.

Does anyone out there really believe that all the commissioners and the county staff who were in attendance only said four sentences -- few of them about the payroll system -- during that entire expanse of time? And then, that they were able to miraculously -- obviously through some sort of telepathic meeting of the minds -- determine the correct course of action so there could be an immediate vote on the issue?

Of course not.

What seems to be becoming clearer and clearer is that there are some members of the Wayne County commissioners who do not understand that they were not elected to run the entire county by themselves or that they have an obligation to live up to their pre-election promise of serving with openness and with the county's best interests at heart, not some partisan vendetta.

There are some, too, who do not seem to understand the Sunshine Laws or have any use for their instructions on how to conduct business. They seem to feel they have the right to ignore questions, to talk about stuff they aren't supposed to in closed sessions and to release only the information they want to release to the public they serve.

The question is, which ones?

We would love to tell you, but we cannot seem to get anyone to agree to answer any questions. And we have had more than a few disturbing comments that suggest that some commissioners are perfectly happy letting Chairman Steve Keen determine the agenda and who talks to whom.

But all is not completely lost. There have been a few positive signs lately -- Commissioner Joe Daughtery has championed a discussion about infrastructure needs in the region. Could it be that he is moving forward into the leadership role this county needs -- someone who is finished talking only to those who have an "R" after their name and is ready to join forces to get things done?

Let's hope there are more forays into leadership in the coming weeks.

We feel the need, again, to remind Chairman Keen and his merry bunch of men that the county is to be run by the county manager.  That is how it is set up, and that is how the majority of this county wants it. The commission employs the county manager, but like any worker, he deserves to be evaluated fairly and, if found to be deficient, to have that evidence presented.

So, if you have evidence, spill it. Otherwise, let the man do his job. Stop trying to put your hands in every pot. You are not qualified to advise every department or to run the day-to-day operations of a county simply because you have run a small business. You are creating the very bureaucracy and red tape you swore you would remove.

And this county will suffer for it.

We are still having difficulty getting across to Chairman Keen that he is not in charge of every department -- every nonprofit -- and everything that goes on in Wayne County. (And yes, that means the schools).

The past commission chairmen he has taken potshots at did not rule their commissions with an iron fist. They were not afraid to say what they thought or to hear what others thought -- or to answer questions about their visions for their county's future. And while they made mistakes, they did not operate like they did not have to answer for them.

He could learn something from them -- and other commissioners (some in his own party) --who understood why they were there and were not on some power trip on the road to a loftier ambition.

And yes, it is that obvious.

But for our purposes right now, this is about honest and open government. It is about the fox not guarding the hen house.

It is about not just saying you are for open government, but actually walking the walk.

Only time will tell if there is anyone ready to meet that challenge.

Published in Editorials on March 9, 2013 11:26 PM