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Perception as powerful as fact Staff 11/03/2006 After the recent special meeting of the Suffolk City Council, held on Oct. 24, comprising a closed meeting of over two hours to discuss the preliminary

After the recent special meeting of the Suffolk City Council, held on Oct. 24, comprising a closed meeting of over two hours to discuss the preliminary findings of the &uot;financial analysis,&uot; are we in a real crisis?

We have seen and continue to expect significant change in the make-up and function of the city administration and local government, but the pace is painfully slow.

The expectation of change is driven by the recent elections, the awaited &uot;financial analysis&uot; and other reviews sought by our new council, after the departure of the past city manager.

While council has worked on changing the city charter for the direct-election of the mayor, little else appears to have been accomplished to meet the real expectations of the citizens, built-up by the rhetoric of the elections and the dismissal of the city manager.

Specifically, many expected more, given the campaign season claims to do something about real estate taxes and public spending.

The present slow pace of progress is causing many to begin to question if there is real motivation on the council to meet the expectation of change that swept in the new tilt of power at city hall …

perhaps we will see more in the discussions of the capital and operating budgets, about to start in a few weeks.

The widely-held perception that there would be significant progress and change, with the common belief that the old days of closed meetings being washed away by our new and open government, is shaken by what we have witnessed to date.

Perhaps one of the best examples of where the present council is being too timid is the way that they have handled the recent special meeting and the lack of discussion concerning the &uot;financial analysis.&uot;

Presenting this important subject in a lengthy closed session to council, rather than an open, public meeting, gives the appearance that something is really wrong.

This is only highlighted by the expression of Mayor Linda T. Johnson and others in July, that the city’s business must be more open and transparent.

What’s up?

It should not be minimized that if there are significant findings that the financial house of cards underpinning all the recent borrowing by the city was misrepresented by the administration, we might be in real trouble.

If, for example, the city management has failed to fully disclose our real financial situation and obligations fully, and this was done to bolster our bond rating and borrowing power, we may be in significant legal jeopardy.

The reason that this might be a powder keg with a lit fuse is, if the bond rating agencies and others used such deceptive data to derive the city’s bond rating, and the attached interest rates for the debts of our community, a civil court may find that such actions have defrauded the lenders.

This possibility takes on real urgency since such potential fraud may seriously damage the bond rating of the city and our ability to borrow at a reasonable cost in the future.

If such fraud has been found to exist, it could make the city liable for millions of dollars in legal bills and debts to our lenders and others.

It could also lead to criminal prosecution of those responsible for such possible deception.

If this scenario is true, the only recourse would be to get our leaders to New York City and come clean ASAP to the bond rating agencies and pray we don’t get sued into oblivion!

While this may be only conjecture of the findings of the &uot;financial analysis,&uot; we will all have to wait to hear what was found at some later date.

In addition to this nightmare scenario, there are two other pressing issues that this situation has brought forward and they include: the expectation that less should be done behind closed doors and more must be done to address the promises of the recent elections.

Given the possible scenario described above, if true, we might witness a true financial meltdown and scandal.

When such drama is conducted behind closed doors, it only highlights why many mistrust government and the intent of elected officials.

This is why the people’s business, and especially our dirty laundry, must be aired in public, even if it is uncomfortable for some.

Just because our city attorney tells our elected representatives that they can hold a closed meeting to discuss our business, does not mean that they should.

The perception that there is something to hide can be as formidable a fact as the truth, when hidden from our clear view.

Roger Leonard

Suffolk