Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Government In The Dark

For those of you who thought you were voting for change in November, you need to rethink. Richmond still has both a City Council and a School Board that think they may carry out their functions in secret. Today the board appointed Dr. Yvonne Brandon as our new School Superintendent in a process that was as far removed from government in the sunshine as one can imagine. All we know is that there was a search team (whose members were subject to a confidentiality agreement) that hired a contractor to find candidates. The contractor produced the names of five candidates. The School Board reduced that to three finalists. Then they chose Dr. Brandon. We have no idea who the other candidates were. We don’t know the process the board went through to make its decision. We were simply told that they decided.

Why should we be concerned about this? During the summer when I was campaigning I met several people who told me they felt that the search for superintendent was a sham; that it was merely a cover for the appointment of Dr. Brandon, which was already a done deal. I checked with people on the search committee who told me that there was in fact a genuine search. But there are still people in Richmond who do not trust the School Board’s process, even with a new majority. The board has some work to do in convincing Richmond residents that they are to be trusted.

Then there is the City Council and the vacant 7th District seat. As you know, former delegate Dwight Jones resigned his seat in the House of Delegates when he was elected mayor. City Council 7th District member Delores McQuinn ran and was elected to the vacant House of Delegates seat. She then resigned from the City Council. Under our City Charter the council is authorized to fill the vacant seat by appointment until the next regular election. Several citizens have filed applications to be appointed to the vacancy. According to the chatter on Church Hill People’s News the selection of Ms. McQuinn’s successor will be done in the dark. According to a statement by a policy advisor for the City Council, “The interviews, as well as any further discussion and consideration of candidates will all be held in Closed Session." Only council members Chris Hilbert and Charles Samuels thought it was wrong to make this significant decision in secret.

Why should we be concerned with this? In the last few weeks there has been a great deal of talk that the selection of Ms.McQuinn’s successor is a done deal. The talk suggests that Dwight Jones approved Ms. McQuinn as his successor and that Ms. McQuinn has approved her successor who will be rubber stamped by the City Council. As in the case of the School Board, a decision by City Council to make its decision in closed session will only fuel this type of talk.

The eight people elected to the council and the nine people elected to the school board in November need to understand that they cannot govern without having the trust of the citizens of Richmond. They will not have that trust unless they do their work in the sunshine where we can watch them. The decisions to do their work in secret were bad from them and for River City.

1 comment:

Carol Wolf said...

"Great column!

Transparency should not be something that the citizens need to beg for from elected officials.

In order for us truly to have a government "of, by and for the people," we need to have elected officials who respect our right to know what they are doing.

Anything less, is a perversion of the promise of Democracy."