February 2007 Editorial Winner


Doublespeak
By Wayne Trotter, Tecumseh Countywide News


The last thing in the world we want to do is get in a fight with the five good people who just started running the Tecumseh City Council. But if the council members are going to play silly word games while skirting the clear intent of the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act on something as vitally important as choosing a new city manager, they're buying their own trouble. We really do hate to see that.
Consider what happened when the council met Tuesday morning. They went behind dosed doors and did something about the vacancy in the city manager's office. Trouble is, outside of those who were in the meeting nobody knows exactly what they did. Nobody even has a clue.
That's because rather than following the law which requires them to ratify executive session decisions in a vote "publicly cast and recorded'' they came back out and voted to "instruct the city clerk to take action as discussed in executive session."
That's doubletalk, totally circular obfuscation. You need a Captain Council Decoder Ring to understand it.
To make things worse, they're doing this on what arguably is the most important decision these five individuals will make during their terms of office. What a way to build public confidence!
Furthermore, they made this move in the absence of the city attorney. They didn't ask Ben McCullar to attend because he charges $125 for special sessions. Maybe we should all take up a collection.
What do they have to hide? And why do they want to hide it anyway? These people won't even say how many applicants they're thinking about interviewing. How harmful can that information be?
Mayor John Collier, who deserves to be cut just a little slack because of his relative inexperience in government, told The Countywide News no additional information could be revealed "because of the very nature of the applicants." What nature? Hopefully, the applicants are either city managers or people who think they have the qualifications to be a city manager. Their salaries are public, their accomplishments are public and their mistakes are public. That's the very nature of the job. People who can't take that kind of heat shouldn't even think about walking into the kitchen, especially not Tecumseh's kitchen.
More doublespeak.
We've dealt with this a lot of times with councils, with commissions, with school boards, with several other public bodies. We understand that the law gives the council broad authority in hiring and firing. We also know that it says "any vote or action on any item of business considered an executive session shall be taken in public meeting with the vote of each member publicly cast and recorded." That's not doubletalk.
The fact is that leadership demands more. In the past, names of the finalists for the Tecumseh city manager job were made public, then all the finalists were interviewed in both settings. Among other things, council members wanted to get a feel of how those individuals performed in front of the people they hope to serve. The City Commission in Shawnee did the same thing when it hired Jim Collard and Terry Powell before him. School boards in both cities have done that. Shawnee even did that to pick a police chief. Applicants expect it and are prepared to deal with it once the process reaches that level. It's common procedure and common sense.
The choice of a new city manager affects all 6,500 residents of this community, not just five. As someone once said, we're all in this together. Let's start acting like it, OK?