Picking which political battle to wage and when are hallmarks of good government.
Wise political leadership instinctively knows when a particular issue deserves to be highlighted or debated.
That’s why the city of Pendleton’s recent decision to hide information about proposals to repurpose the old fire station is so puzzling and, really, unnecessary.
Readers may recall that the city openly sought proposals for the renovation of the property. It is and was a sensible move.
When the East Oregonian requested more details — as part of what was, essentially, routine reporting — the city clammed up.
The reason for the sudden radio silence, city manager Robb Corbett said, was because the city council needed to hear from the individuals who delivered proposals on the project first.
This newspaper was able to independently verify that two people — La Grande developer Gust Tsiatsos and Hillsboro businessman Scott Hart — have submitted preliminary plans for their vision of the renovation.
The city then declined a public records request from the East Oregonian, citing the information is exempt until “preliminary evaluations” are completed.
Now, the city stands on one side of the information fence and the public is on the other side over a very minor issue.
But the city’s stance sends the wrong message to voters at a time when government transparency everywhere is in question.
In short, projected work on an old firehouse doesn’t rise to the level of a classified military project, and therefore the city’s reluctance to provide information is baffling.
In short, the city seems prepared to remain silent over a minor issue and voters should be asking why. Transparency just isn’t a good idea for government leaders. It is hardwired into the very fabric of our democracy.
In our system of government elected leaders — and the people they hire to do business — are servants of the voters. Period. Regardless of how mundane the issue may appear, voters have a right to know what the government they pay for is doing. There are times when government must, because of serious security concerns, be very prudent about the information it is releasing. This isn’t one of them. Instead, Pendleton city government appears to want to hide information from the public, information that is, at best, mildly interesting.
Why then should it be important to release such information if it is so uninteresting? Because any time a government entity withholds information from the public, voters should pay attention as it sets a very low standard in terms of accountability.
The issue over the fire station renovation should never rise to the level of secrecy, and that is why the move by the Pendleton city government is so puzzling and unnecessary.