The recent moves by the City of CdA make no sense to me. In what appears a twisted contradiction, the city refused to provide key information to the Idaho Freedom Foundation, claiming it must protect identities, yet at almost the same time, an email of election questions sent from a citizen to the CdA City Clerk, was “leaked” to an online Spokane gossip blog within an hour of its receipt at City Hall.
The election questions were sent to Susan Weathers, the City Clerk, whose job it is to run local elections. During the 2007 election, citizen Kathy Sims was cited by the city for mistakenly registering her political advertisement with the Secretary of State, not with the CdA City Clerk because it was a local election not a state level election. These kinds of misunderstandings are usually resolved with a simple reminder, but our city attorney decided to impose fines. The city legal department hounded Kathy for well over a year, threatening her with enormous daily fees as they proceeded to drag out the time between their correspondence, seemingly to aggravate the situation even further.
Kathy is an amazing woman. She is strong, smart and tenacious. She built her successful local car business and is not intimidated by the city’s obvious political antics.
The city attorney finally settled the issue by assessing a small fine and ordering Kathy to read a letter of apology, publicly, at a city council meeting. Kathy sent her own attorney to read the letter at council instead.
Last week Kathy sent an email to the CdA City Clerk, asking rational, reasonable questions about some of the election laws, in advance of this November’s city council election. Her email was leaked to the Spokane gossip blog within an hour, where they ridiculed her questions and piled on personal insults. This Spokane gossip blog is the site frequented by CdA City Councilman Mike Kennedy, where he comments under his own name as “MikeK”.
Should we citizens have no expectation of professionalism at City Hall? Is political backstabbing and maneuvering the order of each day down there? And is this how our tax dollars are being used in our town?
Then, in a total twist-about, the Press reported yesterday that the Idaho Freedom Foundation was denied key information by the City of CdA. The IFF requested data about public employees all across the state. Every single public entity provided the full information, except CdA. Our city refused to give the first names of public employees. The legal department said the first names might reveal gender information, so first names would be withheld.
There are two laws in play here. One says that the public record includes the NAME, business address and business phone number of all public employees. The other law has to do with personnel issues and says that gender and ethnic background should not be listed. I called Wayne Hoffman, Executive Director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, who was very adamant about the public’s right to know full names. Here are his key reasons:
1. No other municipality has interpreted the law to mean that gender must be protected by withholding first names. Using that argument, should last names also be withheld to prevent any ethnic interpretation because the law says that ethnic background should not be listed? Some last names might indicate the country of family heritage.
2. The State of Idaho lists all state employees’ full names, titles and work phone numbers on their web site. (they do not list gender or ethnic background)
3. The Idaho Freedom Foundation tracks public salaries and pay increases over the years, which is impossible to do accurately without full names. Johnson/Smith/Jones etc. could lead to major confusion, as could any partial name or first initial only. Employee names are part of the public record, according to Idaho code.
4. If a public employee has serious problems in one jurisdiction, then moves to CdA, it is not possible for the public to discover the connection without the whole name.
5. It’s difficult enough for the public to track how government uses our tax dollars. These types of roadblocks only make it ever more challenging.
Obviously our city needs to balance protecting employees from undue invasion of their personal lives and the public’s right to know how tax dollars are being spent. We citizens should have confidence that local officials can find fairness in a responsible fashion, but with the actions of our current city administration, that level of professionalism is not evident.
“Actions speak louder than words”, my Dad used to always say. This wisdom seems even more golden in the world of politics: It’s not what they say, it’s what they actually do that counts. Let’s hope that city hall takes heed of these issues and turns around their contradictory, disrespectful behavior toward the public.