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Full disclosure is a fact of political life

June 27, 2009

In the latest chapter of the ongoing Police Commission saga, City Council members voted to require applicants for the Police Commission to disclose any criminal background. Fine. But then they had to go and direct the city attorney’s office to keep those disclosures confidential, even though those answers will be factored into the public appointment process.

It’s as if the City Council keeps chomping down on ice cream despite having a toothache that sorely needs fixing.

After ousting Police Commissioner John Brady amid revelations that he’s serving unsupervised probation for a drunk-driving conviction, the council now wants to know all the dirty, sordid misdeeds of the commission’s applicants. The requirement may even be extended to prospective parks and planning commissioners.

Only thing is, they don’t want us, the public, to have access to the disclosures of prospective public servants.

If anything, we’d assumed that the council and City Hall executives had learned over the past month that transparency is more than a grimace-inducing exercise. It’s part of a long-term strategy for preventing the kind of political morass now creeping around Olive Avenue.


Bottom line: These are public servants, appointed by our elected representatives to serve in a watchdog role. The public, then, deserves to have access to whatever the City Council uses during the application review and appointment process, including past criminal offenses.

As Vice Mayor Anja Reinke said, the whole point of requiring the disclosures was so that the council could go into the appointment hearings with “eyes wide open.”

Trying to limit public access to city commissioner applications goes against logic. As Councilman David Gordon put it, cutting off public access to commissioner applications just “opens up a can of worms.”

If the City Council really had any intention of changing the closed-ranks ethos that has caused the majority of City Hall’s current political problems, they’d stop paying lip service to the issue and just pull back the curtain.

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