Operating in secret a danger

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The Madisonville City Council took a page out of the federal government playbook last week in denying the release of the résumés of the people seeking the city manager’s position.

The council’s stated reason, that we don’t want to embarrass a candidate in his current job, is a troubling idea, to say the least, in that it seems the council cares more for protecting someone’s identity than for the welfare of the city.

Arguably, the city manager is the top non-elected public — and I stress the word public here — employee in this county (the only possible exception would be the school superintendent). This person is in charge of numerous city employees encompassing several departments — streets, sewer and water, police, etc. — as well as millions of tax dollars worth of budget. This person will be charged with keeping the money that the residents provide through taxes safe.

This person also will be in charge of grant funds — more tax dollars — providing city residents with utilities, overseeing trash pickup, as well as a host of other duties.

So why aren’t the people of Madisonville allowed to know who is applying? Because these candidates don’t want their current employers to know that they’re seeking other employment?

Aside from that not being an exception allowed by the public records laws of the state, who cares?

This is a public position. This is a position that is the very definition of public service. It is the right of every resident of this city to know what they’re getting for their tax dollar. The city council has no right keeping their constituents in the dark.

If a candidate prefers to seek his employment surreptitiously, then it stands to reason that that candidate will prefer to operate surreptitiously as city manager.

Moreover, if that candidate, once hired, decides to move on, why should he be required to tell the council? The council has decided that current employers can be kept in the dark.

And on that particular point, there is no record that I can find where the council openly decided to withhold the information. Upon coming out of a closed meeting last Monday, they announced their decision on the matter. No vote was taken, no information logged in the minutes, just an announcement that this is how it’s going to be.

The law in Texas is pretty clear on this, and has been going back for some time. All decisions made by the council must be made in public. Résumés of people seeking jobs at the level of city manager — even for that of police chief — that the city has decided to interview and are considered finalists are public record.

The Meteor filed a Freedom of Information Act request, which puts the council on a 10-day deadline to either provide the material or seek an attorney general decision on keeping the information secret.

But to my mind, we shouldn’t have had to.

Council members, like the elected officials in every government from state to federal, are there to represent your interests, not do what they think is best for you — or for someone that may not be connected to Madisonville at all.

Keeping the identity of someone who will be in charge of the city and its functions represents no one’s interests, except that of the candidate.

Even though we live in the mushroom capitol of the state, we shouldn’t be kept in the dark.

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