Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Backsliding Into the Bunker

The Clarion-Ledger report that Mayor Harvey Johnson, Jr. is requiring constituent requests for information to be processed through his office, to the exclusion of the City Council, is more than discouraging. It is early evidence that the Mayor is backsliding into the patterns of opacity that led to the City's rejection of his administration and the disastrous Melton years.

Look at what Candidate Harvey Johnson
told the Jackson Free Press just five months ago:

A reporter posed a similar question to me when I first left office: Would I have done anything differently? I said at the time that I would have done the same thing all over again, but after having stepped back from that experience, clearly there were some things that I did that I would have done differently. . . .

[T]here are general things dealing with accountability—Making sure government is accountable all the way up and down the line, not just in the mayor’s office or with department heads but all the way up and down the line. There are some things that I’ve learned both in and out of office that I’m ready and willing to put to practice as we move forward.

* * * *

One of those things that I have learned deals with the area of communications. We’re going to have to communicate with the public more effectively. We actually had ward meetings for six years, every month, throughout the city of Jackson, but if you talk to people, they still feel that my communication effort was not effective. . . . Not only do we want to make sure that we’re doing what’s right from a government standpoint by making ourselves accountable, but we want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to help the media carry out its responsibility as well. . . . . Maybe the media felt that somehow I wasn’t as transparent as I needed to be, though I can’t be for sure.

Guess what, Mr. Mayor? Maybe the media doesn't "feel" that you aren't as transparent as you need to be. Maybe it's not about "perception."

Here's the cold, hard truth: your administration is already not as transparent as it needs to be.

That policy needs to be changed today.

I hope our friends at the Jackson Free Press join us on this point. Recall their important qualifiers to
their endorsement of Harvey Johnson in this year's election:

Johnson’s biggest problem was his relationship with the media. As we told him last week, “perception” isn’t his fault, but it is his problem. He agreed, and pledged to get out and build relationships, personally getting more involved with both constituent groups and with the media.
His other self-described problem as mayor was his administration’s accountability. . . .

* * * *

Johnson acknowledged that his previous administration could succumb to a bunker mentality. We say this now—if he’s elected mayor, we’ll be watching for that mentality, and we’ll criticize it at the first signs. Jackson needs to stay open, focused, entrepreneurial and effective.

Let's all work together and stop this Administration from backsliding into the bunker mentality.


Donna said...

Posted about it this morning, Jim. ;-) So far, the Johnson administration is a mixed-bag on transparency. He should just turn over the list of employees that Councilman Weill wants -- after the debacle of Melton and his employees, Council should demand to know who the city is paying and how much, in detail.

And you know how we feel about the mess of the victory celebration and how they handled that. Poorly, to say the least.

On the other hand, last week, Chris Mims provided a PDF of the Levee Board resolution that the Levee Board's attorney, Trudy Allen, refused to provide. So credit on that one.

The whole state is a mess when it comes to open records and transparency: governor, secretary of state, Board of Education, JPS are just a few that we are battling right now to get information that belongs to the public.

As I said on our site this morning, Johnson should lead the way on this one. It is an opportunity to be progressive, and he should take it.

And we must all push for that to happen -- consistently.

Thanks for raising the concern as well. We need as many voices as possible demanding transparency regardless of party or agency.

Jim Craig said...

Great, Donna. I did look on your site and missed that post. But I'm glad we stand together on this.

To be clear, I very much hope the Mayor gets "back on the wagon" on transparency, and then moves on to his substantive agenda. We all -- whether within the City limits, or in Madison, Rankin, Hinds Counties, or anywhere else in Mississippi -- need for the Mayor to be a huge success. He has the talents and training to do so.

Donna said...

No worries, Jim. I don't expect you to see everything we post; I can barely keep up with my own site, much less anyone else's.

JPS is trying to charge us more than $300 to "retrieve" recent documents for a story Ward is working on (not old stuff, recent documents). They apparently don't get that part of their jobs as public servants is providing public information to the public.

Arbitrary charges, not to mention overuse of executive session, are only two more ways that elected officials block the public from the information we deserve.

Kingfish said...

That might be a good test case to submit to the Ethics Commission as to what is a reasonable charge. At what point does a charge become punitive and intended to discourage the public from requesting public records, thus violating the spirit of the statute?