Democracy is predicated on citizen engagement, which is impossible without transparent government. A reason I am running for mayor of Winchester is to increase transparency in our local government.
Transparency is not an abstract concept in Winchester. There are concrete ways our local government can facilitate transparency, starting with the repeal of the seven-page Standards of Decorum the current mayor has touted as a primary accomplishment. Simply put, these standards obstruct engagement and exploit City Council as the city’s public relations arm.
Here are a few highlights from the new standards that regulate our representatives on council:
1. Do not speak negatively about the city.
2. Ensure that information concerning the property, government or affairs of the City is held confidential, disclosed only with proper legal authorization, and never to advance the financial or other special interest of themselves or others.
3. Forward citizen complaints to the City Manager.
4. Practice civility.
5. Council members will frequently be asked to explain a council action or to give their opinion about an issue as they meet and talk with constituents in the community or the media. It is appropriate to give a brief overview of city policy and to refer to city staff for further information.
Council members who fail to follow these standards “may be subject to admonition, reprimand or censure.” We deserve honest, timely engagement from our elected officials. It should not take a security clearance to share or receive information about the city whose services we finance with our tax dollars and on which we depend for our quality of life and safety. It is not the job of elected officials to make the city look good and cover for its failures. It is the city’s job to BE good. That involves honest, direct communication and robust engagement with citizens.
It is problematic for power-entities to invoke civility. There is a wide body of research about the ways organizations leverage “civility” to maintain the status quo and silence dissent. Reminders about civility have even extended to public comments during council meetings. We live in a city where the truck that responds to your emergency arrives with just the driver on board over 70% of the time. What is more important? Firefighters’ tone when they speak to council or their urgent warning about a public safety crisis? What the city might label “incivility” can be a strong indicator that the status quo is not working for everyone. The city should be able to hear important feedback without shifting focus from the problem to the way concerns about the problem are conveyed.
I am not running for head of Winchester Public Relations. I do not aspire to make the city look good. I am running for mayor. I plan to represent the people who live here.
Danielle Bostick is running for Winchester mayor in the Nov. 3 election as a Republican.