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A THREAT TO OUR LIBERTY

July 31, 2010 - Ray Hall (Archive)

The Tea Party People repeatedly calls our attention to the threat the Federal Government is to our liberty and pocket book. So loud is their protest that they have become enablers to forces that indeed erode our liberties and pick our pockets. If the Tea Party wants to grid their loins to confront the real culprits in taxation and the corruption of liberty they will have a ready and willing ally here.

I would be supportive of the so-called “Tea Party”, whether a bona fide political party or not, if they were not so single-minded in their assault on the Federal Government when the Federal Government is not the enemy.

We had a glaring example of that last week when officials from Bell, California, a city of 36,000, not much larger than Jamestown, sneaked out of town before they were tarred and feathered, or worse.

The City Manager—a perverted system of governing and an arrangement that easily lends itself to corruption—created for himself an annual salary of nearly $900,000 and he will be eligible for nearly an $800,000 annual pension. As far as we know, they did it all within the letter of the law.

City Managers are never responsible to the voters—they usually cut deals with elected city councils and mayors—that’s how they get their jobs—part-time council members in Bell, California were collecting nearly $100,000 a year in salaries.

An enquiring mind might be a little curious how such a travesty could happen in this day of instant communication and a twenty-four hour news cycle. Thanks to the LA Times, the answer was simple; the City Manager and the City Council in Bell, California could set their salaries in a closed meeting and had only to notify the state retirement system by computer of their actions.

Our local governments, including our budget plagued state government, routinely abuse New York’s Open Meetings law. However, the law has no teeth—there is no penalty for violating the law—and that is a greater threat to our liberty than anything the Federal Government conjures up.

The City of Jamestown together with the Board of Public Utilities has paid out hundreds of thousands—if not millions--of taxpayers’ dollars to settle lawsuits—sexual harassment cases and negligence cases. Officials voluntary agree to, then hide behind non-disclosure clauses as part of a settlement to keep from telling the public how bad they screwed up. In many instances the public never learns who, how much or why.

All of our local governments and governing bodies legitimately use Executive Sessions, it has become fairly common. The Board of Public Utilities has probably logged more than 200 hours of closed door meetings over the last three or four years, particularly regarding the much heralded clean coal plant projects.

There is no reason to believe that city officials and members of the Board of Public Utilities are anything other than honest, hard working public servants who have the best interests of our city and our community as their highest priority. However, honesty and integrity of particular officials is not the point; nearly all bonding companies tell their corporate clients that the most trusted employee is almost always the one who walks off with treasure.

Bad things happen. The former manager of the Board of Public Utilities left suddenly under a cloud without public explanations except for rumors of malfeasance or improper conduct and a former Jamestown City Treasurer was charged with stealing city funds. The public has a right to know what happens behind closed doors, especially if any laws were violated and how much money, if any, employees and former employees were paid for personal matters, separations and misconduct.

New York needs to change its Open Meetings Law—we need to add penalties—criminal penalties for ignoring the law. There are only a few items that require immediate privacy—Florida lists those in their state constitution—and officials in that state can go to jail for meeting behind closed doors. That’s the way it should be.

If the Tea Party is looking to preserve our liberty—keeping local officials from closed door meetings is a good place for all of us to start.

 
 

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