Monday, December 29, 2008

We Can Hear You Now

Mayor-elect Lioneld Jordan has assembled an impressive transition team to prepare for taking office later this week. The two public meetings of the full committee have been on the local cabel channel and have revealed a bold approach to open government and informed action. It appeared to be a fresh start that included and welcomed everyone in our community. We should have known it was too good to last.

Jordan's transition team has a subcommittee allegedly charged with facilitating better communication and open government, and it has scheduled a public meeting today. Can you guess where? At the Cowbird Headquarters. Can you guess when? From 9:00 a.m. until noon. Walt Eilers, the subcommittee chairman, said the event is mainly for people in the business community and the Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods to drop in and share their thoughts on the best way to have open government. He then expresses delight that 25 people have RSVP'd to attend.

Here's what is badly wrong with this. First, the subcommittee began by meeting last week with city staff and city employees to figure out the best way to get suggestions and communicate with the workers. These meetings were not open to the public, despite Jordan's pledge that his transition team meetings would follow the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. Eilers then said they drew the conclusion that city employees would like anonymous surveys attached to their pay stubs they could fill out and turn in. That survey won't even go out until January 16th, a full two weeks after Jordan takes office.

Second, if you really want to involve and hear from all the community, why begin by framing the discussion and holding your first open meeting at the Chamber of Cowbirds office? Why not just have it at the Fayetteville Country Club to keep out the unworthy? Are there no rooms available at City Hall or the Blair Library, where the full committee met? If you really want to involve and hear from all the community, why hold a "public" input session on a weekday during work hours? If you really want to involve and hear from all the community, why start with privileging the views of the "business community?" And what's with the RSVP? Are they having the event catered?

Eilers says, oh well, his group plans to have night meetings in each ward for the general public to attend and share suggestions. Of course, the dates for these four meetings have not been scheduled or publicized yet, and Lioneld Jordan takes office in four days.

Open government, indeed!

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