A public hearing would help uncover the truth | Opinion | Feb. 6

A recent cover of the New Yorker magazine carried a cartoon of a character in flimsy garb and carrying a sign that read: “End of the World Liquidation Sale!”

In the nature of the bankruptcy epidemic across the nation and the state, there is some candid thinking that this beautiful community might soon be hoisting such a sign for the city if the realities of our municipal financing are finally understood and exposed to the people.

Harsh words perhaps, but reality is not always the most pleasant experience and it is imperative that those who make city policy step back and take a deep breath to set priorities the same as any sound business operation must do today.

My favorite source for logic has always been Abe Lincoln, who could consolidate large thoughts into few words.

Paraphrasing the great man’s belief in the people of the nation as best I can, he said that citizens will almost always make the right decisions when they know the truth of what’s going on.

I believe that and think that most here would agree. In short, the facts, the truth if you will, is not the private province of the council or the mayor, no matter how sincere their beliefs may be.

The facts belong to the people who not only elect those folks but who come up with the money to finance their decisions.

So candor is now the thought for today as it should be always.

Having made that pronouncement, I am obligated to propose some means to provide confidence to the taxpayers, confidence that seems now to have been greatly diminished, or worse.

A part of the approach requires a means by which we can ask more direct questions of the mayor and council instead of merely appearing as witnesses before their weekly meetings.

I propose a public hearing, not a town hall session, but a hearing with a panel of professionals whose sole purpose is to get facts underlying policy decisions in terms all can understand and in an atmosphere without name calling, accusations and all the rest that undermine mature communication.

This kind of hearing would pose questions to the invited quests – the mayor and council – that are the roots of much discontent at the moment without charging anyone with anything in the belief the facts will do their own job.

Questions to the invited quests will come from the panel and the audience.

The second proposal deals with the reality that benefits of Winslow Way and Winslow Tomorrow plans are limited to a relatively few owners of some important real estate and buildings.

Either the areas under consideration are considered a specified utility district (LID) so that the owners finance the improvements, or a contracted public/private partnership is created so that the private sector finances up to 75 percent of the cost of improvements that will inure to their benefit anyhow.

Actually, both of the above steps should be greeted with great excitement and endorsement by the mayor and council as a means of demonstrating the merits of their judgment and/or showing where important modifications might be necessary before one further dollar of taxpayer funds is spent.

How could any sincere elected official want anything less?

I will help organize the proposed hearing as a journalist and businessman, insuring that a panel is drawn from others not engaged in the actual programs to be examined. The guests will not be required to take any oath for this session.

Given the shaky financial situation and the impact of the general economy on many here on this island, it would seem only logical to take these positive steps without delay, including with a public declaration from the mayor and council in support of these efforts.

Joseph J. Honick is an international consultant to business and government and writes for many publications. Honick can be reached at jhonick@gmaint.net.

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