Just trying to get along

Published 7:17 pm Tuesday, September 22, 2015

By Chris Dove

It should be clear by now that our City Council is continuing a long tradition of getting along.

On the surface this seems like a reasonable approach for a group that has to work together for the next two years. Looking deeper, we see the dangers inherent in this approach. In their effort to get along, council members have reinforced the perception of backroom politics and abridged the constitutional free speech right of citizens.

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For a group that supposedly speaks in public only twice a month, council shows a surprising commonality of mind on issues not previously discussed.
Last week’s surprise move by Councilman Roger Fawcett was a case in point. He proposed offering the city manager’s position to the interim manager, Patrick Roberts.

I agree with his reasoning, but not the way he went about it. It makes sense to save money and time by making the offer — if indeed all of the candidates for the position paled in comparison to Roberts, as I trust they did.
What is a concern to me and should have been a concern to all council members was that Vice Mayor Bennett stated that he did not have the opportunity to review the applicants’ files.

The vice mayor’s review was critical to the selection process. He was one of two subcommittee members charged with making final recommendations to council. He also represents one seventh of the citizens of Suffolk. The fact that he was not prepared to make a vote but felt compelled to vote anyway is disturbing to me.
I also was disturbed the other council members continued to press for an immediate vote, even after hearing Bennett state he had not reviewed the applicant files. Additionally, council members agreed they were not prepared to vote on a complete offer including compensation.

If they were not ready, why not allow Bennett the time to review the applicants and the subcommittee to make recommendations for the next council meeting, as originally planned?
Once again council has made a last-minute surprise decision with regards to another city manager.

Ironically Mayor Linda Johnson claimed the motion was a model of public transparency. Not surprisingly her puppet, Curtis Milteer parroted her comment. Team member Mike Duman made sure the public would not be made aware of the new city manager’s salary until it is too late to receive public input.
Many citizens had predicted council already intended to offer Roberts the position before the selection process began. This week’s decision to abandon the selection process and rush a vote only lends credence to that assertion.

The city’s inclusion of guided survey sessions for citizens to suggest general characteristics for a future city manager was seen by many for what it was, public relations. Council could have held a public hearing on final candidates if it truly wanted meaningful public input.
I suspect council’s efforts to get along stem more from threats of reprisals for dissenters, like those used during the past city manager’s tenure, than any true desire to provide good governance.

I have been told by past and present council members that their constituents would pay the price if they did not just get along.

Chris Dove