Since taking office in January 2016, the current City Council has repeatedly made front-page headlines for the wrong reasons.
First, they changed public comment rules, discouraging residents from speaking about issues not on the agenda. Then, they tried to sell public land on the lakefront to a local developer and were later found guilty of violating the city’s code of ethics by failing to adequately notify residents of the sale. Then came the Foundry story, and the city’s first response was take no accountability and tell residents to call the DEC with their concerns, then later to cite a non-existent gag order by the DEC for their decades-long failure to notify residents of the lead and arsenic danger in their yards. Then, there was a 5,000 gallon raw sewage spill into a residential creek that runs through Ward 6 and two city parks, and the city did nothing to notify residents living and playing nearby. Last fall, Council voted to temporarily change the residency requirements for the chief of police when it was found that the chief failed to move into the city after taking the job and then kept the $2500 he was given to relocate.
Then, last January, City Council began the search for a new city manager, the most important and influential position in city government.
Although they have earned a reputation for a lack of transparency, the 2018 city manager search would show us if Council learned from their mistakes.
They told the public that they had decided to use the same search process that was used nine years ago.
Except Council didn’t actually duplicate the process from 2008, they changed it dramatically.
How The Search Process Changed From 2008 to 2018
In 2007, city manager Rich Rising announced his resignation and twenty days later the Finger Lakes Times reported that City Council planned to select a city manager search committee.
In 2018, city manager Matt Horn announced his resignation and one hundred and sixteen days later a Finger Lakes Times article reported that City Council planned to select a city manager search committee, and also that the committee had already been selected.
Taking an additional 94 days to announce a plan to create a search committee after the committee was selected is not duplicating the process from 2008, it’s changing the process to be less transparent.
In 2008, six public meetings were held at different locations around the city during the week of January 14th, all of which were hosted and moderated by the Mayor and City Council members including Ron Alcock, John Greco, Jason Hagerman, Paul D’Amico and Steve Valentino.
In 2018, a public survey was made available online and at City Hall for three weeks in February. The survey was not available in Spanish, and the survey results were never officially released. No public meetings were held.
Creating a survey and never releasing the results, instead of having face-to-face dialogues with community members is not duplicating the process from 2008, it’s changing the process to be less transparent.
The false claim that Council has used the same process in 2018 that they used in 2008 has been repeated publicly by multiple Councilors and the Mayor. Another word for a “false claim” is a lie.
At least one Councilor asked the hypothetical question about which community members should be removed from the committee to create more inclusion, others said that “if we got Matt Horn last time, the process works,” while some questioned the motives of community members who have expressed concern. Rather than respond to legitimate transparency concerns from the public, Council pulled out the old political trick of steering the conversation to focus on individual people, rather than the process, in order to avoid discussing the topic of transparency.
In May, Council had yet another opportunity to show they were listening to the people by adding just a handful of new members to the existing search committee, an idea suggested by Councilor Camera.
Councilor Camera found zero support for his idea from the rest of Council.
City Council Doesn’t Want More Transparency
Forward-thinking city governments who live in this century are making honest efforts around the country to increase transparency in order to reduce potential for corruption while building public trust, but this trend hasn’t found its way to Geneva yet.
The people want a more open government, and City Council wants to fight the people every step of the way.
Because Council has lied and aggressively fought against a public push to make the search process more transparent, the next city manager will not be seen as legitimate and will have to work hard to disprove the assumption that they are just another old boys network crony who has been installed to uphold the status quo.