When Mayor Deborah Stinson and the City Council announced their top pick for City Manager had signed and returned Port Townsend’s job offer letter, we thought Port Townsend taxpayers would be …
When Mayor Deborah Stinson and the City Council announced their top pick for City Manager had signed and returned Port Townsend’s job offer letter, we thought Port Townsend taxpayers would be interested to read it and asked for a copy.
City Hall said no.
We trust our elected officials to do their job, but citizens do not give up the right to verify what’s being done with our money and in our name. Democratic government relies on the consent of the governed, which presumes informed consent, not blind fealty.
It’s not just us saying it. In case after case, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the public’s right to know what government is up to.
Washington’s good open government law (RCW 42.30.110) gives elected officials leeway (not a requirement) to evaluate candidates in secret. Once a selection is made, salaries, wages and other working conditions are emphatically the public’s business.
We provided that citation July 10, but Mayor Stinson and Acting City Manager Nora Mitchell still refused to let any taxpayer read the offer letter and in six days of stalling and delaying, neither Stinson nor Mitchell produced a single citation to support the delay.
Instead, Mitchell, with Mayor Stinson’s full knowledge, asserted powers and privileges that don’t exist in law and that make a mockery of the comprehensive plan, which declares Port Townsend is devoted to “engagement” and other bedrock principles of responsive government.
Instad, Mitchell conjured a new extra-legal principle: Citizen review would be “premature” Mitchell wrote in response to our request. She’ll send us a copy later when City Hall feels the time is right.
In other words, City Hall wants citizen input when it’s too late to make any difference, a point we emphasized several times in demanding public access to public documents.
Monday night, City Hall, having consulted with City Attorney Heidi Greenwood, cited a section of Washington Law that allows them to “deliberate” in private.
So we asked if a correction is in order. After all, we reported last week the decision had been made and the offer accepted (signed) by the new City Manager.
That doesn’t sound like evaluation or deliberation. That sounds like an all-but-done deal.
Mitchell has advanced the idea that releasing the letter will harm the citizenry by hampering the city’s ability to drive a hard bargain.
City officials have read the letter.
And so has the gentleman offered the job.
So whose prying eyes are Stinson and Mitchell worried about?
This would have been an excellent time for interested citizens to take a look at the city’s offer and provide informed consent or dissent.
What’s the worst that could happen?
City Hall might not get rave reviews for its work.
The new City Manager might have to explain why he wants more money or time off than was offered.
Democracy, as Sir. Winston Churchill often said during messy debates or slow deliberations, is the worst possible form of government…except when you consider the alternatives.
We understand caution, but in erring, why not err on the side of the public’s right to know?
Opacity leads to distrust and our fine public officials will serve the public best with a policy of openness and engagement, not secrecy.
The Leader’s Editorials are the opinion of the Editorial Board: Publisher Lloyd Mullen; co-owner Louis Mullen; Editor Dean Miller and Leader readers who lobby The Leader. Each editorial is signed by the person who writes that editorial on behalf of the Editorial Board.