Monday, April 2, 2012

Closed Feedback Loops Do Not Equal Open Government.

Today's theme: I love this city, but hate the way it's run.

Here's an example:

Nick Kotsopoulos' article in the Sunday paper summarizes every frustration I have with how our city government does business. Basing the Council's inaction on whether or not some elected officials supposedly have issues with Chief Gemme is irrelevant and unprofessional. Some councilors were responding to multiple complaints from the people they were elected to represent. Bringing these concerns to the City Manager and to the Chief was the correct course of action. While the charter forbids Council members from advocating the hiring or firing of a City employee, it is incumbent upon them to ask pointed questions and return that information to their constituents.

Elected officials should have approached the City Manager with their concerns, which by all accounts, happened. I hope the City Manager conveyed these concerns to Chief Gemme, but we have no idea if that happened.

Nick Kotsopoulos made the point that back room conversations that left pro-Gemme Council members out of the loop wasn't the best way to do business. I agree. Where the civil process of government broke down was the alleged actions of the City Manager or other City Councilors feeling out the Council's positions behind closed doors. These actions should be public, and on the floor of the Council where we can see the results of our quesitons.

I was one of the citizens who questioned the actions of Chief Gemme. I don't know the man at all, personally or professionally. But as a citizen of Worcester, I wanted information. I could care less about the his Twitter feed, or his feuds with local journalists. From the tone of his posts, and his few interviews, he said he was unsatisfied with the reporting on the WPD, and felt that parts of the story were being misrepresented or details were left out. Fair enough. It's entirely possible- I don't trust any single source either.

The whole point of hiring a media specialist with taxpayer dollars was to present the WPD's side of the story. That hasn't happened at all, and when questioned on it, the Chief cites confidentiality agreements, personnel privacy issues, and the standard quote of "I can't comment on an ongoing investigations." Silence from our chief law enforcement officer on vital issues is not acceptable.

Here's a perfect example:

Here is my response:

I have yet to receive an answer in any sort of forum, public or private.

When I don't receive an answer, I turn to my elected City Council and the City Manager for answers. If we silence debate in the Council chambers, and do not allow the public to speak on issues before the Council, then how can we get any satisfactory progress, besides the illusion of a silent, happy Council and City? We end up with a closed cycle of legitimate questions with no answers. Silence on these issues create allegations of misinformation, unprofessionalism, and then a call for everyone to behave and be quiet.

I do not accept silence and secrets from our government. An open and accountable government is the only way we can have a civil society.


Mike G. said...

Law and Order is on enough (even if you don't have cable) to know that police really cannot comment publicly on cases because it can prevent them from being tried, being tried fairly, and especially from being found guilty.

I have been on the lookout for Clive, because I'd like to ask him about what he thinks the chief thinks is disingenuous about the column. But, to think that the chief can provide information at this time is naive at best.

I think both sides, the chief and the newspaper, continue to be so polarizing on the matter of reporting about police business, that they are just making things worse.

I think the main thing is that the chief called Clive out for being inaccurate, and while I don't expect to hear any defense, I'm certainly interested in what Clive's defense would be. A columnist doesn't write about facts; a columnist writes with an agenda, and that's it.

Sean Dacey said...

My main complaint about how things have been handled is the gag orders associated with all settlements of police misconduct.

We've had to pay out close to $500,000 in the past decade, and details about the incidents are limited to what journalists can dig up.

There have been reassurances that the situation has been handled internally, yet some names keep popping up with complaints over and over again.

In some instances, the WPD claims that the suits were frivolous, yet claims were paid to save money. I disagree vehemently with that policy. I raised this issue over a year ago with every elected official and the City Manager.

No feedback, no questions on the Council floor, nothing. I've raised it again and again, with no response.

My last point is this- if they can't comment publicly on a case, why hire a Media Specialist? Is it her job to say "No comment?"

Reality shows that they do talk- but only to 'friendly' journalists.