Opinion

What Briggs owes now is some candor

Tie her up, put a gag in her mouth and keep her on ice until the trial’s over.

A rather film noir-ish treatment to be sure, but we were going to suggest nothing less for Mary Jo Briggs as the city tries to find her successor as top administrator at City Hall. After all, who’s the last person you’d want applicants talking to?

How about the one who decides that island city government is so dysfunctional, she’s walking away from a prestigious $135,000 per year post in one of the most desirable communities in the state? If the Bainbridge gig is that bad – and if Briggs is around to say so – who’s going to want it?

But we’ve revised our thinking a bit, having given Briggs a good grilling and come away with...absolutely nothing. So circumspect has she been in her comments since announcing her resignation last week, we’re still not precisely sure why she’s leaving. Witness for the prosecution, she’s not.

The shame of it is, Briggs is the one person on the island best positioned to diagnose what’s wrong with City Hall – from the mayoral suite to the council chambers – and suggest what can be done about it. With three years of running the city behind her and six months of unusual latitude ahead, she has nothing to lose and plenty to offer.

Briggs insists that it was no single person or incident that tipped her over the edge, but the cumulative strain of intragovernmental tussles between the administration, City Council and the panoply of stakeholders in island civic affairs.

In multiple interviews with this newspaper, she has stuck to three well-rehearsed themes: that the lines of authority between the administration and council are confused; that the players are unable to set priorities and then stick with them; and that decision-making is inconsistent and inconclusive, with “final” decisions too often revisited.

Not exactly news, and the two tangible examples she’s let slip aren’t much more illustrative. First is the well-chronicled saga of the Waterfront Park restroom, a six-year farrago of indecision and incompetence for which council members, citizen activists and public works officials blame each other to this day.

The second and less widely noted involves the city’s surface and stormwater management fee. Briefly, a consultant was hired (cost: $43,000) to determine the proper fee structure; upon completion of the study late last year, the council decided it really wanted something else and hired another consultant (cost: $111,000) to redo it.

Common themes here are wasted time and money, and a city staff jerked around like dogs on leads. But are such breakdowns systemic? Personality driven? Somehow endemic to the political culture of our island community? Just what does Briggs see that everyone else is too myopic to notice, or too agenda-driven to acknowledge?

Give us examples. Tell us specifically where the system has failed, and how it might have worked better for City Hall and citizens alike. It’s not a matter of burning bridges; it’s about leaving the community with something constructive to build on.

Sidney Greenstreet observed in “The Maltese Falcon”: “I distrust a closemouthed man. He generally picks the wrong time to talk, and says the wrong things.” He never crossed paths with Mary Jo Briggs, who’s saying nothing at all when she really owes Bainbridge Island candor.

Perhaps we might suggest another film noir convention: put her in a chair in a darkened room, shine a light in her eyes and make her sing.

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