Transparent city | Editorial
May 16, 2012 · 4:16 PM
Transparency, another city hall staple promised by newly elected mayor Tim Matthes, went by the way side last week. For a few hours, Matthes ordered at least three department heads to not provide information to the Port Orchard Independent. All questions and information requests for any city department were to go through the mayoral office.
Matthes justified his restriction of public information, through controlled dissemination, was indeed intended to only apply to the POI (the newspaper most preferred by his community and those who put him in office). The Mayor’s reason for seeking to make himself the spokesperson to one newspaper for the entire city and control all outgoing information from petty crime to building permits was simple, he did not like what a reporter wrote about him. In a recent story the POI called Matthes to task over an unfulfillable promise to give up salary in order to pay for bi-monthly city council meetings to be broadcast on local cable. Matthes said the story didn’t give his perspective that he had not given up on foregoing salary to pay for broadcasting.
Rather than write a letter, or a response column, Matthes’ response was to break another campaign promise, this time one of open government. During the campaign Matthes promised, “As your Mayor, I will champion your right to know what’s going on at city hall.” While it is the Mayor’s prerogative to control as much of the outgoing information as he legally can, the move to control the flow, however short, did not speak well for transparent and open government in the City of Port Orchard (Matthes said he would continue to look for a media policy for the POI, which would not apply to other media outlets).
On the other hand, creating special media rules that apply to only one news organization would eventually bring the kind of regional media scrutiny that most small cities would pay dearly to avoid. It is, however, a situation that journalists of all stripes love. One likely result is a flood of public information requests that has the potential to bog down the mayor’s office with time sensitive information requests, that if not answered fully and properly could garner a $100 a day fine until corrected.
We are pleased with the mayor’s decision to return to “normal procedures” regarding the POI. It likely stopped that scrutiny, but we are still watching.