Transparency was the watchword in Newport’s mayoral campaign and the victor, Linda Joy Sullivan, before the first session of the city council she chaired, pointed out that council meetings are meant “to promote transparency and accountability in government.”
It is disappointing, then, that at her second meeting, Mayor Sullivan and the council seemed to forget those high words. Choosing a city manager is a matter that affects every citizen of Newport and voters have a right to have as much information about the process of choosing the next occupant of that office as possible.
Clearly there are reasons to keep the names of candidates confidential, but it might have been wise for the mayor to lay those reasons out before going into executive session. A simple explanation that some people might be risking their current jobs by applying would have been sufficient.
As far as we can see there was no reason not to answer questions about the number of candidates the council would hear from and whether any would be interviewed remotely. That information would be helpful for citizens interested, as they ought to be, in judging how well the council carries out its responsibilities.
It is astonishing that there was no statement as to how the council plans to move forward in the selection process. When the field is winnowed down, how many finalists does the council expect to see?
What role, if any, will the public have in the process? Will finalists be invited to visit Newport and meet with city residents? Will voters have a chance to offer their opinions to the elected officials, to whom they have entrusted the final choice?
There is no earthly excuse for secrecy in any of those matters. In fact, it would have been wise to explain the selection process in detail before scheduling the special interview meeting.
So far the council, including the mayor, appears to be interested in drawing a veil of secrecy over the process of picking the most important city officer. They are badly mistaken in doing so. It presages more contentious council meetings, something the city and its residents can ill afford. Conducting business away from the sunlight of public scrutiny will also make the job of city manager much more difficult for whoever is eventually hired for the post.