Salisbury has a right to know
This could not happen in Washington.
Efforts to keep information from the public would blow up into a cover-up. And for gnawing away at every morsel of information she can gather, Post reporter Emily Ford would eventually win a Pulitzer.
Like Washington, the public recognizes what the politicians can’t — that the truth about what happened with Doug Paris’ “mutual termination” will emerge. The irony is that the public agrees with the government’s decision, but by the time this soap opera is finished, the cover-up will have harmed the public trust in local government and the politicians involved.
The little stuff in Washington is easy. Every federal employee’s compensation is public record. Raises are public record. Bonuses are public record. Until now, the city would not disclose that information. Elaney Hasselmann, the former public information officer, and other city employees are overpaid. Now we know who they are and how much.
The big stuff in Washington only offers terrible choices. When government employees refuse to divulge information, they claim immunity either under the veil of national security protecting the public or under the Fifth Amendment protecting themselves from criminal prosecution.
Separating with Doug Paris involved neither national security nor criminal activity. Perhaps a failure of oversight or some embarrassment, but that’s all. Even so, the City Council is hiding behind the closed session laws (wrongly, in my opinion).
Last year, Congress investigated whether the IRS had acted improperly in its examination of whether various Tea Party political action committees were properly qualified as non-profit organizations. Lois Lerner who headed that IRS unit refused to testify, worried that her actions may have been criminal.
In the early 1990s, Congress investigated whether five U.S. senators had exerted influence over the banking regulators looking into the activities of Charles Keating. In my opinion, Keating was probably the most honest lobbyist who ever lived. When asked if he expected “favors” in exchange for his donations to those senators, he answered, “Of course.” Keating went to jail.
Those senators, the Keating Five, were forced to testify before the Senate Ethics Committee. Four, including future presidential nominee John McCain, brought attorneys. John Glenn didn’t. He sat there alone. (How I admired that!) All were absolved, some with a light slap on the wrist. Senators Glenn and McCain were re-elected. The other three chose to not run again.
Most famously, President Nixon’s fight over the release of so-called Watergate tapes led to his being the only president to resign.
During the Watergate crisis, Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox subpoenaed those tape recordings. President Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliott Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson refused and quit. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Rucklehaus to fire Cox. He, too, refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered Solicitor General Robert Bork to fire Cox. Bork fired Cox and was later rejected when nominated for the Supreme Court.
When the Supreme Court finally ordered that the tapes be released, President Nixon resigned.
The Salisbury Post has asked the city to provide dozens of documents related to the dismissal of Paris and the severance paid to Hasselmann. The City Council has pushed City Clerk Myra Heard in front of the microphone to issue its refusal.
The City Council did the right thing for the city. It got rid of a problem. In the process, however, it tried to cover its boo-boo with a light kiss and a bandage. The kiss didn’t make it all right and, like a bandage removed ever so slowly, it hurts longer and it hurts more.
Washington knows that the public has a right to know. Salisbury needs to — and will — learn that lesson.
David Post lives in Salisbury.