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Letter: Government transparency needs to shine again


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From: Wayne Hanrattie

Columbus

Two years ago today, our newly installed Mayor Kristen Brown did not attend the community-wide annual Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast held at Columbus East High School. Her absence was noted by many. The following month, the Columbus Chapter of the NAACP invited the mayor to attend its meeting. She apologized for not attending this community event. “It was a rookie mistake of mine,” she was quoted as saying in The Republic.

Almost two years later, Mayor Brown — on the last working day of 2013 — sent an email letter to Parks and Recreation Director Ben Wagner, notifying him of his immediate demotion from director along with a 50 percent reduction in his salary for 2014. A list of reasons for this demotion was compiled solely by the mayor herself. Her power and authority? Indiana Code 36-4-9-2.

No one had been consulted in advance of this action by the mayor. Not Ben Wagner. Not the Parks Board. Not the City Council. The City Attorney Jeff Logston, who represents the city and the Parks Board? Only he knows. It was a fait accompli: a done deal.

Will this become another “rookie mistake” by the mayor, quickly resolved and then forgotten? I do not believe so. Why? This solitary action (if sustained) would …

1. Badly damage future employment opportunities for Ben Wagner here in Columbus and beyond.

2. Send a chilling warning to all Columbus city employees that their job performance, demotion and/or dismissal will be an action solely decided by one person and one person only.

3. Send a clear message to the elected City Council and the volunteer members of all boards and commissions that this mayor’s power supersedes the goodwill and community efforts of all units of government as well as ad hoc planning groups for community-wide events, such as the Mill Race Marathon.

4. Deliver a message to the whole Indiana community (and beyond) that the present mayor intends to unilaterally interpret and use the Indiana State Code as final arbiter.

I, for one, don’t want my city to function in this way. I don’t want the city’s elected councils and boards (Parks, Commons, etc.) to be blindsided. The resolution of this real crisis in management and city functioning will take hundreds of hours of human time, and the mistrust will linger long into the future.

The previous four mayors have honored the architectural design of our city’s gem of a City Hall. There are no closed door entrances to any departments, not even the mayor’s. The privatization of the mayor’s office needs desperately to change. The vision of

J. Irwin Miller and so many others for this city to be a light of transparency needs to shine again.

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