OPINION COLUMNS

Keep the lights on at city hall

By | Published Sunday, June 6, 2010

These are trying times for city government; some might even call them dark times.

Preliminary property values are down, meaning that even if cities maintain current tax rates, revenues will fall.

Raising taxes in the current economic climate is not an option to many elected officials. So the next step is to make cuts.

It’s not a good situation to be in, especially if your job is one of those that might be eliminated.

The city of Newark finds itself in this situation. The city is considering eliminating the police department and possibly the municipal court positions while contracting with Rhome for these services.

On the surface, the moves seem to make fiscal sense. But we hope that there aren’t other factors at work.

Take the municipal court position, for instance. Court clerk Amy Cromer appears to be one of the people who could find themselves unemployed by the city’s proposed budget cuts.

We can’t help but wonder if Cromer’s insistence that the city follow the laws regarding open meetings and maintain ethics in selling the community center has played some role in her job being on the chopping block.

It was Cromer who told the buyer of the community center that the building had asbestos – something city leaders had failed to mention to the buyer. They may not have had a legal obligation to notify the buyer, but it is still the ethical thing to do.

Cromer has also raised concerns to city leaders about possible open meetings violations, such as possible illegal postings of meetings and illegal gatherings outside of official council meetings to discuss city business.

The Wise County Messenger has filed an open records request with the city to see if e-mail correspondence among the council and mayor constitute an illegal meeting. It is similar to a request made by resident and former council member Bonnie J. Neal. The city has requested an opinion from the attorney general’s office on what they can release, so we wait.

We understand the need for cities to make cuts, but we hope cities do not use that as an excuse to exact retribution on those who are looking out for the best interests of the citizens of Newark by trying to keep elected officials honest.

Mayor Mark Newby said at a recent council meeting that the city “has nothing to hide.”

We hope for the sake of Newark’s citizens that is true. Sunshine always does wonders for the health of city government, and pulling the shade down on those who are trying to let the sunshine in will always leave citizens in the dark.

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