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Speer: There’s a general lack of transparency

August 10, 2012
Bill Speer - Editor/Publisher , The Alpena News

Decades ago there was a popular phrase that if you're going to "talk the talk, you had better be able to also walk the walk."

I was reminded of that this week when considering the concept of transparency in government, which in Alpena at least, appears to be somewhat of an oxymoron.

When a government body or its officials tout themselves as "being transparent" in all their actions, then when given the opportunity to demonstrate that fact, they need to respond accordingly. When an official refuses, transparency flies out the window and is enveloped by the cloak of secrecy and darkness.

Whether right or wrong, that person always, 100 percent, will be found guilty by the court of public opinion because of his stance.

Wanting to ensure that government was being performed in the proper way - publicly, before city residents in open session - The Alpena News and True North Radio filed a Freedom of Information Act request earlier this year of Mayor Matt Waligora and Councilmen Mike Nunneley and Dave Karschnick for their electronic and telephone correspondences leading up to the dismissal of City Manager Thad Taylor.

Because of the way the dismissal occurred and statements being made at the time, we wanted to ensure no previous discussions had taken place that would be a violation of the Open Meetings Act.

Waligora and Nunneley complied with our request, as did Waligora's employer. Karschnick did not, so we appealed his initial denial. Despite requests that he comply, he still refuses.

I wish he wouldn't. By holding to that position, he is hurting his standing in the community by not being transparent.

Karschnick maintains he did nothing wrong, did not violate the law, and wants to keep those records private. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. The fact is, none of us will know.

And, because of that, the court of public opinion will go into session without all the evidence before them. Faced with a recall, I would have hoped for all the information before casting my vote, as I expect many of you would.

Karschnick has served the city well over the years and while no one would probably say they agreed with him all the time, the fact is I believe the decisions he made over the years were well thought out and based on what he believed to be best for the city. I expect a large contingent of city residents appreciate Dave's service and when given the option of recalling him, would show him a little grace with the city manager decision - even if they disagreed with him.

That is, until this week. By his refusing the FOIA request, he suddenly finds those same residents looking at a councilman surrounded by clouds of doubt.

I'm disappointed. Forget philosophical differences and show the transparency that council as a whole indicated they would do this year. Lead by example.

If he did no wrong, great, then what's the harm in releasing the records?

Right now my 2-year-old granddaughter is learning concepts, especially "yes" and "no." Imagine her confusion if grandpa mixed things up on her, and suddenly added "yes, but" or "maybe" to the mix. She would be confused, frustrated and perhaps, disillusioned.

So are we.

Transparency means visible, able to be seen. There is no gray in the discussion, only black and white. Either you're visible with your actions, or you're not.

If you "talk the talk," then be prepared as well to "walk the walk."



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