Open Meetings & Freedom of Information Act
I filed a Freedom of Information Act complaint against the City of Winchester in court on Monday. We have a right to open government.... it is not an option. Now more than ever, it is critical that residents have access to their local government. Instead, the City limited public dialogue by excluding public comment unrelated to hearing items from meetings and not providing a process for live comment.
We have not had a proper/effective public comment time since MARCH. There were also three FOIA violations related to closed session irregularities that were blamed on technology (this was reported in the Star. The City also apologized for these infractions in a recent statement).
On Wednesday, the City of Winchester announced (without mention of the court filing) that there are new ways for citizens to provide live comments via Webex or phone. I am relieved to know that there is a way for citizens to advocate for themselves at these meetings. It is not OK that it took a court filing for citizens to be able to contribute once again to meetings in a meaningful way. Self-reports of transparency are empty if they are not accompanied by a culture of true transparency and openness.
The suppression of public comment serves to maintain the status quo. And in Winchester, the status quo involves firefighters going out with just the driver on the truck 70% of the time (this is extremely dangerous). Public comment was the way that I was able to understand the depth and urgency of a problem the city had managed to shield from public view.
I am running for mayor because we have a right to open, transparent government. As mayor, I will continue foster a culture that values and amplifies citizen voice.... after all, the "demo" in democracy comes from the ancient Greek word for "people" ... not "demolish citizen participation in government."
I will also advocate for the repeal of the Standards of Decorum, which the current mayor listed as a key achievement. This seven-page document unnecessarily limits what city staff can say about government affairs; encourages elected officials to forward complaints to the city manager; limits the depth of responses from elected officials to citizens; and place an inappropriate emphasis on "positive image" for Winchester.
As mayor, my priority will be on providing citizens the information they need to be active participants in a democracy and amplifying-- not stifling-- citizen voice.