Government is charged with keeping their citizens safe, providing them with opportunities and allowing them to take an active role in its operation. Most of all, a government must be honest and transparent.
No one would argue that transparency is easy. Quite the opposite, in fact — in many cases transparency can be very uncomfortable, both for the government officials and for those who take an active role by attending the meetings.
Comfort, however, is not the point. The point is that a government must serve its citizens’ interests.
Pell City has, for some time now, been working to hire a city manager and usher in a new form of government. It is one that they believe will best serve the interest of their citizens, and one that should be commended. The job is a big one, with a salary that will likely top $100,000.
The Pell City Council conducted public interviews for the city manager in January, but did not hire a manager then. They also conducted public interviews for the new fire chief, building inspector and city engineer. Last week we learned the mayor and council had arranged “serial meetings” to circumvent the state’s open meetings law to secretly interview another candidate.
Our sister newspaper, The Daily Home, has withdrawn its request for the applicant’s resume after assurances the candidate had withdrawn his/her application. But we weren’t asking for anything special. The document is a public record, the kind that should be available for anyone to see.
The withdrawal is probably a good thing. Hiding from public scrutiny is not the kind of thing we would expect from a desirable city manager.
By cutting the public out of the process, the city has done a disservice to its residents.
We wish Pell City nothing but the best in its endeavors under its new form of government. This veil of secrecy, however, is an insult to the people.
As the city moves forward with its search, Mayor Bill Hereford is saying, “Next time, it’s not going to be an issue.” We hope he’s right. Pell City is growing at a healthy rate, and this mayor and council have taken big strides to help that happen. We view this episode as a misstep, one we hope won’t be repeated.