In much of the world, arranged marriages are commonplace. In these cultures, the couple know almost nothing about each other before the wedding, and have no choice in the selection of their spouse. We are not such a culture, and it is difficult to image such a thing being broadly accepted in the United States. So it was particularly offensive that our city council went to closed session to discuss the selection of a city manager.
To be clear, we don’t claim that making this decision behind closed doors was illegal. The Sunshine Law permits going to closed session to discuss personnel matters, and the hiring of a city manager is that. But as the attorney general says, “The Sunshine Law allows a public body to close meetings and records to the public in some limited circumstances, but it almost never requires a public body to do so.” The selection of a city manager is a great example of where council should have chosen to make the decision in public.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time we’ve been down this road. A few months ago, council abruptly terminated acting city manager Jeff Blume. Rumors abound regarding the reason for his termination, but since it was done in closed session, nobody can be sure. Was Mr. Blume guilty of some heinous offense? Or was he the victim of a personal vendetta by a faction of council that disliked him for things he did in the past? Residents of the city have a right to know the reason their city manager was sent packing, and should be able to witness the debate between council members which led to it. Who was council protecting by doing this behind closed doors?
We have had a crisis in confidence in our city council for years. Transparency is a prerequisite to restoring trust. When the council goes into closed session after most of their meetings, without discussion and by unanimous vote, and even schedules meetings with no public business at all but the vote to enter closed session, that is the opposite of transparency. Council must minimize the use of closed sessions, and must start promptly and publicly reporting the result of closed sessions as the Sunshine Law requires.