‘Another misstep’ on City Council

Published 9:11 pm Wednesday, February 11, 2015

It is always fascinating to watch an administrative train wreck if you are not going to suffer too badly from the outcome.

A great example is the recent discussion by our council and city manager about the “Council Code of Ethics.”

While the intent of updating the Code of Ethics to limit council members’ ability to speak about closed sessions might have been innocent, the public perception always trumps reality.

Email newsletter signup

One must suspect initiatives to silence speech in the public arena, but this one seems to demonstrate an insane lack of recognition that a recent election had changed council so profoundly.

I believe Mike Duman was attempting to fix what he clearly saw as a minor issue, and I am trying to reserve judgment on the intent of the mayor and city manager.

However, I am struggling with giving them the benefit of the doubt, as they should have known the possible public perception of their plan to change the code, but chose to push forward anyway.

How could a supposedly “savvy and effective” city manager and a long-serving mayor not recognize the negative perceptions likely to rise in many minds?

Given the manipulative nature of our past council and especially our ineffective city manager, it is clear that public indignation would rightfully build.

Councilman Tim Johnson called this issue a “slam” against the new council members. I would go one step further: It is clear that some have attempted to “chill” the discourse of our new council members.

The perception, right or wrong, was that the three new members who had upset the proverbial applecart downtown were being given notice that they had better watch their backs.

The Mayor has been around long enough to know the effect this all could have, and I know her well enough to surmise that this was a power-play to put the rogue newbies on notice — they had better walk the chalk line.

A better way forward would be just to let state code be their guide. Ethical conduct is only found in personal commitment and conformity to the law. An arbitrary standard to bludgeon other elected officials into silence is a false sense of security.

At times — a very few times — closed discussion is necessary. For example, I feel a much-needed discussion is one to fire the city manager and replace her with a true strategic leader.

This all could have been avoided, if only council members had recognized that ethical conduct is always a matter of perception. And the perception of this mess was that the mayor and city manager were pulling a fast one, just after the recent election to change leadership.

It was another over-reach and misstep by both.

Roger Leonard is from Suffolk. Email him at rogerflys@aol.com.