Editorials and opinions

Council, do your job

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If the people of Newport aren’t fed up with their city council, they ought to be.  Since Town Meeting the council has tied itself in knots, hiding as much as possible from public view, and failing to accomplish a single thing.

As anyone spending time in the city knows, there is not much going on, especially when compare to Newport’s near neighbor St. Johnsbury.

The former provides a good lesson for council members.  Not all that long ago, its select board spent its time in pointless quarreling.  Members against members and the majority against the town manager and other valuable St. Johnsbury employees.

While their battles went on, the town wilted on the vine.

A successful community needs nurturing and the new select board, working together with the town manager and assistant manager, has been effective in finding St. Johnsbury’s natural advantages and building on them.  Even with the competition from nearby Littleton, New Hampshire, there are always people on the streets full of successful businesses.

Newport’s council, which could be taking the lead in reinvigorating the city, seems instead to be indulging itself in settling scores, real or imagined.  Its inability to figure out how to do the simple task of hiring a new city manager is a case in point.

If there is a reason not to hire Karen Geraghty, a normal course of action would have been to reopen the search and hope to find someone better.  Instead it appears the council has offered her a contract it hopes she cannot accept.

We say appears, because every action the council takes or discussion it holds takes place in executive session.  Council members emerge to take votes, but never venture to explain why they have made choices.

While the law allows municipal bodies to exclude the public from certain discussions, it does not require them to do so.  As a newspaper it is naturally our preference to see public business carried out in public.  We believe most voters share that view.

In our opinion it would be much better for the council to iron out any disagreements in open session so Newport citizens can hear for themselves where there are differences and decide for themselves who has the stronger case.

Only in this way can voters know that the people they entrust with the responsibility of governing their city are carrying out that sacred trust wisely or are simply using their power to carry out vendettas against those they believe have slighted them in the past or otherwise offended them.

We have no opinion on whether Ms. Geraghty is the best candidate for city manager.  But we are certain that abusing the power to do business secretly will never inspire trust among city residents and will only lead to civic apathy.

In addition, if Ms. Geraghty is pushed out without a clear public understanding of why the council has hemmed and hawed, changed minutes to misstate the actions it took in early meetings, and set up a situation that allows it to pretend that she just doesn’t want the post, it will find it exceedingly difficult to find a qualified candidate for the job.

Who in their right mind would want to subject themselves to a council that arrogates to itself the powers of a star chamber without feeling the need to answer to the voters for its actions?  Newport needs leadership, not conspiracy.

JIG

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