To close or not to close? That was a question posed at a recent commission meeting, whereby city staff would be asked to keep their office doors open whenever talking to a citizen. Not a bad idea, given that some taxpayers, it was reported, have noticed substantial amounts of staff time taken behind these facades.
It’s more than just a perception-thing, though. Closed-door meetings don’t only look bad in government offices, they are bad. It makes those not included in such meetings feel wary of the why’s of such, the uneasy presumption of no good, and the questions provoked as if promises may have been made. As well, frankly, it makes it easy target for taxpayers to blackmail the unsuspecting and runs ribbons around our elected officials.
It’s hard to blame staff for such judgment, especially given the near cliquish power attributed to some of our citizens. If a staff member yields to such pressure, who can blame them?
To be sure, staff should always be permitted to hold their own meetings behind closed doors but, when it comes to citizens? It’s one thing to discuss an overdue bill with a fraught taxpayer behind a closed door. (Which, come to think of it, is probably not a good idea either, given the number of gun-toters in our lil’cidy.) It’s quite another thing to disappear behind a closed door for an hour with a staff member to discuss anybody’s guess.
We have a right to hold our city staff accountable but we also have to empathize with a struggle not created by them. A solution, probably, can be found by referring to our local ordinances.
Why not edit, or add, an ordinance that deals with this issue and puts an end to some of our taxpayers’ proclivities to taking advantage of our personnel? To wit, one idea …
We have ordinances that deal with records retention? Right?
Being that they are in the business of governing, it should be safe to assume that city staff maintain calendars of their work days: who they met with; perhaps, the purpose of certain meetings; maybe an outcome documented.
The commission would be acting responsibly to create an ordinance on the level of requiring staff to maintain a common business calendar, such as one in Microsoft Outlook. Then these records could be made public as requested and could serve to reveal those citizens who, maybe, should be spending less of their time taxing our public executives.
Another idea would be to simply supply staff with fart spray for their inevitable need to get away from these pucks. Choose your poison!