By Tom Henry | as published in the November 11, 2017 edition of the Blytheville Courier News
“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings…and that is our obligation to inform and alert the American people–to make certain that they possess all the facts that they need…without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed–and no republic can survive,” President John F. Kennedy said in a speech before the American Newspaper Publishers Association on April 27, 1961.
President Kennedy certainly wasn’t talking about Blytheville politics or policy, but he was telling us that the less transparent a government is and therefore the less informed the public is, the less free we are. In that case, no longer is the government a servant of the people, but rather the people become slave to a masterful government. Have we as a city just come to expect that we have no right to demand transparency? Have we become like a third-rate banana republic?
Lord John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Acton, known as a historian of liberty, coined the phrase, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”
How do we stop our city’s repetitive spiral of unaccountability and corruption?
I must make it abundantly clear that all of our officials have been placed in that spiral by virtue of being elected or appointed. But that doesn’t mean that they are all corrupt. However the downward spiral begins with their first decision to put a policy in action without a formal vote or the first time their buddy gets helped out because of personal relationship or the first time they give a knowingly deceptive answer. Over time, elected officials are presented with many tests and may find themselves lowering deeper into the spiral until they fall into a full-blown ASP, FBI or IRS investigation (corruption).
Surely questions/accusations alone do note prove guilt and smoke doesn’t always prove fire, but when an administration/office has multiple reports of smoke and they are not vigorously investigating for fire [Gary Phillips/Blytheville Waterworks investigation] then that makes me very concerned. Why aren’t our city officials vigorously and publicly demanding that after all this time the investigation come to a head? While some city council members have publicly demanded it, Mayor James Sanders has repeatedly expressed a position that it would be wrong for him to put public pressure on prosecutors to bring this to a decision. I say either exonerate him (and charge the one that is guilty) or charge him and bring him to trial. The Mayor’s Office should be loudly demanding justice and retribution every day until it is received. Why hasn’t that been done?
Also, through earlier columns I have repeatedly demanded increased transparency from our city government. I have complained of secret meetings and other FOIA violations including proper legal notice of special meetings. But after repeated calls for increased transparency, our current city government has become even less transparent.
The Mayor’s Office is gearing up for reelection and his city council is increasingly not meeting. And when they do meet, they don’t discuss much. So, after hearing things from multiple sources within city government who wish to remain unnamed, here are a few concerns I demand be answered officially:
- With the expiration of former Parks and Recreation Director Elroy Brown’s medical leave and his inability to return to the position, will the position be filled again? When? Who?
- I have heard by multiple sources that the City of Blytheville has been attempting to enter into an agreement with the Blytheville Humane Society to operate the city’s animal shelter and that the locks at the shelter have already been changed. Why has this topic not been mentioned in committee meetings or before the entire council? Why has the Mayor’s Office not made any announcement?
- Every year in recent memory, except last year, budget meetings [probably six or more meetings on average each year] where held nearly ad infinitum in order to give public transparency to the budgeting process. Why did we not have one, not one single meeting last year? And with the mayor required by law to deliver a budget by the end of this month, will budget meetings be held in public or in private?
- Why was Skycop (allegedly) only alluded to one time in the Mayor’s State of the City Address, but never mentioned directly in any town hall or city committee meetings or even in campaign materials when the administration pushed to have the Public Safety Tax passed. But publicly became an expensive city savior mere days after the election?
- Why aren’t all committees meeting every month as they are supposed to? Why are the committees that do meet, moving the dates and times around for member convenience rather than being firmly scheduled so that the public (and press) can know to be there?
- Whatever happened to the golf course? After all that brouhaha, what the heck is going on? What has been decided? Are we going to keep it? Are we going to close it? Are we going to morph it? What is going on? Has nothing happened since last update in June?
- We need to know a lot more about this proposed water deal with ANC? Are we legally required to provide the water? If not is it a questionable special deal? We need more information because I’m hearing 12-years of free water for the college as a reimbursement and I don’t even know if the city is legally required to provide it or not.
- Where are we on the new justice center?
With this many major issues unresolved and so many questions lingering, why aren’t all of the committee meetings being held? Why are we not getting updates? Well, as I write this (Thursday) an email arrived that there will be three committee meetings today. Hopefully all of this will come out there.