The Bangor City Council’s time-released firing (let’s not sugarcoat it) of City Manager Ed Barrett has brought the issue of government accountability, once again, before the public. But as usual, the public, for the most part, is not getting the whole story. And one of the reasons it’s not getting the whole story is due to Bangor City Council’s habit, in recent years, of keeping certain facts under wraps in order to protect the status quo at City Hall.
Take, for example, its decision a few years back — supported by four former mayors — not to investigate alleged improprieties in the school department, since to do so might needlessly damage the reputations of those involved.
Another reason the public is not getting the whole story has to do with the media’s reluctance to stick their necks out; especially when their necks (and budget) are already stretched across the chopping block. Since the public however, still enjoys freedom of expression in this country, it can and indeed should be counted upon to help shape things in a positive direction for our community, state and nation. But in order to do so, a thorough accounting of the past — of taxpayers’ money and concerns — must be aired.
For too often, we’ve seen activities go unaddressed, only to see similar activities surface again later, which prove burdensome or even injurious to the interests of the taxpayer. Case in point: Not long ago, 381,000 taxpayer dollars were contributed, with council approval, to a private institution and professional baseball team. Is it any wonder then, amid such a lax culture of fiscal and political accountability, that taxpayers once again find ourselves eating another throwaway expenditure, this time in excess of $400,000 — and this one, according to one veteran councilor, not authorized by the council.
It’s time we heard from city staff and other self-described fiscally conservative councilors how such an unauthorized expenditure to the folk festival can be defended. Denial, cronyism and bias simply no longer can be tolerated; not if budgets are to be met, and progress is to be made.
There’s a reason three separate Bangor mayors, from three separate decades, moved for a change of direction in regard to city management. Their concerns, as well as mine, center on a lack of humility, and a lack of collaboration.
Beware of public servants who do not apologize. Beware of public servants who attempt to exclude the public, and the public’s representatives from the decision-making process — such as those attempting to remove, without sufficient dialogue, our police station from the city center. Here again, behind-the-scenes maneuverings were allowed to take root.
And beware of any body or agency that seeks to limit access to, or accountability from, either the democratic process, or centers of power within that process. Such a lack of access and collaboration in Bangor, the state and nation has proved to be very costly for us all. Trusting the good ole boys (and gals) — those of the political party machines included — to make all the decisions for us just no longer cuts it.
Civilized society, like nature, requires a certain breaking down in the order of things for growth to occur. We are indeed experiencing such a breakdown, in Bangor, the state and nation. In order to more wisely shape the inevitable growth that will come, it behooves us to ensure that the proper elements are in place within the public-private sector nexus.
While striving for transparency and efficiency must remain an important part of solving any community’s problems, fostering innovation, in the economy, and in government leadership, remains our best hope for health and prosperity.
No shortage of errors indeed has been committed by the Bangor City Council, but its recent decision to bring in new leadership was not one of them. Alas (as Councilor Geoff Gratwick is fond of saying), let the pruning of deadwood continue. Change, however frightening it may be to some, must be embraced, so that a new mix of citizen seed and sunshine might produce healthy growth for us all.
Thomas Mooney is a resident of Bangor.