Time to talk about it
For about a month now, Rockland officials have been arguing about whether they are even talking about moving city hall downtown.
Now City Councilor Elizabeth Dickerson has come forward and said not only that the council has talked about it, but talked about it behind closed doors.
The foolish move would be for the council or City Manager James Smith to continue to downplay discussions. The community is now talking about it, and we all know this has been an item on the long-term plan list since the budget came out in May because it is written in black and white in city documents.
We also think the council should not bother with any vindictive attempt to punish Dickerson for violating the sanctity of its closed-door meetings (or executive sessions) by discussing the matter with the press. There's no point getting self-righteous. The community has a right to be involved in discussions about possibly moving city hall, and any discussion of this in a closed-door meeting is both highly unpopular and possibly illegal.
What would be more productive is to hold a public hearing on what the options are and why this has been discussed. After a presentation of the discussion so far by city staff and councilors, the hearing could be opened to the public for questions and to allow taxpayers an opportunity to make comments, express concerns and have input into the process.
What we think we know now is that the present location of city hall is almost paid off. City officials are exploring whether to sell the property to developers once it is, and establish a new city hall somewhere else in the city, preferably downtown.
There have been reports that the location of the existing city hall may be attractive to developers, given the strip mall development of Thomaston with the new Wal-Mart.
Public officials tend to have a very different idea about when a proposal should be made public. The public and the press wants to know what they are thinking at the earliest possible point and have input into the process, something driven perhaps by our American ideas about democracy. Public officials will say, "This is very preliminary or premature." However, we dare not wait until any final decisions are made to bring the public in.
City councilors and employees should never forget, the city belongs to the people.
We are concerned about the number of closed-door meetings. We are also concerned about a wariness the present city management seems to have of press scrutiny. This kind of "no news is good news" attitude is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. A city official concerned about bad press, does something secretively only to have the press find out and end up looking bad. This reinforces the idea that an active and interested local press such as we have in Rockland is a problem for public officials.
However, our experience is the more open and transparent an official is, the fewer problems they have. In this case, an open discussion in city chambers about possibly moving city hall would have generated a great deal of public interest, but it would not have led to mistrust of city officials.
While this comes the week before the city council election, we hope this discussion and issue is not a deciding factor for or against any of the candidates.
We have shed a great deal of ink in the past month showing the positions and opinions of the three candidates: Incumbent Larry Pritchett, Louise MacLellan-Ruf and Harold Perry. All three candidates are to be commended for volunteering to serve in their community, and we urge voters to look at the full spectrum of issues and stances the candidates have outlined when voting Nov. 5. To learn more about them, please visit our site online and read the following articles (we will make these articles free to the public):
We also have in this edition of The Courier-Gazette a listing of the polling places and times, so there is no excuse not to get out and vote Nov. 5.