Council, Don’t Lock Us Out

The Gilroy City Council and the City Administrator owe Gilroyans
a public apology for their recent and clearly unjustifiable
decision to lock out the public entirely in an effort to hide the
details of an embarrassing sexual harassment termination that went
sour.
The Gilroy City Council and the City Administrator owe Gilroyans a public apology for their recent and clearly unjustifiable decision to lock out the public entirely in an effort to hide the details of an embarrassing sexual harassment termination that went sour.

Advice from an attorney is just that – advice. It isn’t gospel, and far too often that advice separates the interests of the “city” from the interests of the public when, in fact, those interests should be one in the same.

Gilroyans rely on their elected leaders to err on the side of open government and disclosure. When a situation is embarrassing for the city, the gut reaction may be to run and hide, but that’s when our city leaders should be most forthcoming.

The public has a right to understand and draw conclusions about the firing of Senior Building Official Rex Wyatt, the city’s handling of the situation and the charges leveled during the course of the court case.

To attempt to hide things from the public by holding a super-secret meeting makes matters worse. And, just as importantly, it violates the state’s open-meeting laws and casts suspicion on city government: What other matters are the City Council and city administration hiding from the public?

It’s an issue of trust and credibility, and frankly we’re embarrassed that not a single City Councilman stood up and declared, “This is not right and I will not be a party to it.”

Terry Francke, a longtime advocate of open government in California and the head of the nonprofit CalAware, makes the point perfectly in today’s front-page story.

“Litigation by a government agency is often a sign, number one, that something wrong has happened, that there is a problem that’s occurred in government,” Francke said. “Number two – very often it’s a sign the taxpayers are going to have to pay for it. Number three – it may be a sign that, unless corrected by a termination or a transfer, (the problem) may happen again. So anyone with enough investment in terms of being a taxpayer, who wants to have a government that’s smoothly and properly and effectively and ethically operated, one of the first things you keep an eye on is what the local government is being sued about.”

That’s why it’s vitally important for City Councilmembers to see themselves not as an elevated agent of city government but rather as a servant representative of the people.

No Gilroyan expects a perfect City Hall, but residents have a right to scrutinize their government, and it’s the responsibility of our elected officials to preserve and protect that right. In this case, sadly, they have failed.

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