Borrowing a page from President Barack Obama’s playbook — where he said that his administration would be transparent, yet it’s not — Mayor Dr. Clemontine Washington seems keen on making it difficult for the public to see what is happening with Midway’s government, and the city council doesn’t even have a clue.
The council is charged with providing overall leadership for the city by enacting laws and allocating city resources for programs, services and activities. In order for council members to perform the duties they were elected to carry out, the city must make all government papers available to them in a timely manner and without charging for the information.
Among those critical city documents are the minutes of the monthly city-council meetings. All council-meeting minutes are supposed to be kept in a binder and made readily available. On Oct. 18, 2011, then-Councilman Terry Doyle needed several months of minutes that were necessary for him to perform his job. Instead of assisting him and giving him what he needed, the city clerk made him file a Freedom of Information Act request to get the minutes and billed him $111.58 for 4¼ hours of work — work that should have taken less than 15 minutes.
When Don Emmons was mayor, the minutes were promptly posted on the city’s bulletin board and website, emailed to those on a distribution list and made readily available to citizens upon request. On Midway’s official website (www.historicmidway.com), only the minutes for two 2013 city-council meetings are posted and none for 2014.
Also on the website, under “latest events,” is this: “City council meetings are held at 6 p.m. on the second Monday night of each month at the Midway Civic Center.” The meetings are and have been held at the Midway Police Department/courtroom. I wonder if the city administration doesn’t want you to attend.
The city ordinances listed on the website last were updated in 1989 — 25 years ago. Plato once said, “No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding.” In order to understand, we must first know the law. Why is the city keeping us in the dark?
An article in the Coastal Courier published July 6, 2011, stated, “Midway city clerk Lynette Cook-Osborne said transient-merchant licenses for this type of business cost $50 per day and that occupational licenses for business with one to five employees cost $100 per year.”
Section 2-5-22 Levy of Tax states, “Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, there is hereby levied and assessed a business tax of $30 per year on all occupations and businesses within the city.”
All of the city fees from business licenses to liquor fees are higher than posted in the ordinances, yet the city clerk is unable to produce the legal documents that resulted in these raised fees. Why?
The mission of the finance department is to manage Midway’s fiscal affairs, but because of the secretive nature of Washington’s administration, the finance director never publishes the budget or a financial statement.
At the April 23, 2012, monthly work session, Washington stated that council members were not authorized to go out and talk to any business within the city of Midway. What didn’t she want them to discover? Maybe the fact that more than 20 percent of the businesses surveyed paid for but did not receive their business license for the year.
Why doesn’t the mayor want the city council involved in city business? What’s being hidden?
Calderone is a conservative who lives in Midway and has written for trade publications in various fields.