May 20, 2014 10:40:21 AM
Late Friday afternoon, Robyn Eastman of J5/Broaddus put the finishing touches on an extensive list of the projects that could be pursued should the city of Columbus secure a $5 million bond for infrastructure improvements. Working with each councilman, Eastman's lists included one that outlined the most needed infrastructure improvements and another that listed the streets that are in most need of resurfacing.
The Dispatch had requested that the lists, when completed, be forwarded to us so that we could share that information with our readers. Eastman said he was agreeable to releasing that information, pending the approval of David Armstrong, the city's chief operations officer. Reached Saturday, Eastman said that Armstrong, who presumably works at the behest of the mayor, had denied our request because he felt it important city councilmen received the list before the public.
Instead, that list will be available for review tonight during the city's regular council meeting. There will be time for public comment on the bond proposal during the meeting, after which the council is expected to approve the bond.
We strongly disagree with Armstrong's position on this matter, for two primary reasons.
First, each city councilman worked on the list with Eastman, so the councilmen are certainly well aware of the content of those lists as far as their wards are concerned.
Second, and more importantly, if it makes sense for councilmen to have an opportunity to review the lists before voting on the bond issue, it also makes sense citizens have that same opportunity prior to the council meeting. Instead, the public won't know what projects are on the list and what projects aren't on the list until the "11th hour."
We find this troubling. Recently, the city has made a big show of pulling back the curtain to allow residents to see and participate in the business of city government. But clearly, when the city refuses to share information on a bond proposal that will raise taxes for every property owner in the city, it suggests citizens once again have only a limited voice in the matter.
The city's refusal to release these lists may not have been a deliberate attempt to limit public participation in Tuesday's council meeting, but it nevertheless achieves that result.
We argue passionately that the public's role in decisions that impact the city, especially those that have an direct impact of residents' pocket books, not be minimized or ignored.
Certainly, when city business is conducted openly it sometimes makes for contentious debate. Often, city leaders open themselves up to intense scrutiny and criticism when residents are permitted to join the debate. It can be messy, unruly.
It would be easier, by far, to make these decisions without the interference of residents.
But it most decidedly would not be better for the community.
If the city's plan to borrow $5 million to improve infrastructure and streets is a wise decision based on a well-developed plan, the majority of residents will support it.
But when residents are not afforded the opportunity to weigh the evidence that supports these kinds of decisions, it only further undermines public confidence in our leaders.
We do not understand the reason for this mad dash to pass the bond issue. Residents deserve ample time to examine these lists, form an opinion and share it with their elected representatives.
That is not what will happen in this case. Oh, there will be lip service paid to seeking public comment on the plan tonight, but residents won't really have an opportunity to reach an informed opinion.
Armstrong's actions make sure of that.
It was a mistake, one that can be corrected by delaying the vote on the proposal to allow residents an opportunity to study the plan for themselves.