Getting past the great unpleasantness

Published 9:36 pm Saturday, March 23, 2013

By Roger Leonard
Guest Columnist

During the last several years, city government has been increasingly criticized and denigrated, related to how it works and whose interests it serves.

There is a significant level of mistrust of almost all that City Hall does, whether by the city manager or the City Council. It is apparent that this mistrust is due to an utter lack of transparency in so much they do and the propensity for council to close itself within its back room to do the people’s business.


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This leads to great suspicion of motives and often, misunderstanding of outcomes. Citizens are excluded because of the level of criticism leveled at council, and they criticize more because of being excluded. And the cycle tightens and tightens to where we now are, with an unpleasant standoff.

The real issue we need to understand, and the point that is missed by all, is this: Different opinions are not a bad thing. In fact, they are the dynamic that can make our city work better.

We have all seen the unjustified closure of the peoples’ business by council and a strategy whereby the decisions of the mayor and City Council are made in backroom deals.

This is both corrosive to good government and unnecessary. We need to break the cycle of criticism leading to more backroom deals, and more criticism of those deals then leading to a more such deals.

The best example of the problem is the choice by City Council to give the city manager a huge salary raise several weeks ago. The decision wrong, not because they decided they shouldn’t have given the raise, but because of how they chose to do so.

We have a good community and many good people, but we are losing our way related to how the government and the people of Suffolk work or fail to work together. Government would benefit from a reset, where elected officials come out and say they are going to be leaders and do much more based on merit and fact, but, most important, govern in the open.

We all need to understand that council members are not royalty. They are the elected leaders of our community and serve us all, and they do so at some expense to themselves. Further, council must demand that city staff, and especially the city manager, acknowledge that the people have a right to engage in the discussion.

This will break the cycle of mistrust and misunderstanding. There truly are very few bad players in this saga, and the people are right to demand inclusion and sunshine in all their business. Even bad decisions deserve to be understood and corrected — by open and engaged dialog.

The City Council is made up of regular citizens, who are elected to serve. They can only serve well if they do so in the open and when they understand that the citizens are the boss and to be served.

When government closes into itself and rejects the right of the citizens to be included in all, we all suffer.

Roger Leonard is from Suffolk. Email him at