One down, four to go. Or maybe it’s five. Or perhaps none. With Marion, you never know for sure.
A month after its city clerk resigned because her boss wasn’t immediately fired, the city has hired a new clerk — without, by the way, ever revealing her salary, reputedly a lot less than it’s paying her assistant, who got a big raise around the time she became a central figure in the mayor’s effort to oust a council member.
The city still has to hire an administrator, a police chief, an assistant chief, and a patrol officer. Now it has to find at least one new council member as well — two if the ongoing effort to oust another is successful.
Or does it?
The entire community thanks Chris Costello for his service as a council member and wishes him the best in his valiant struggle with health issues.
Unfortunately, his resignation could leave the city battling issues of its own. The issues are deeply rooted. They began building in 2005, when the city — with its current mayor as administrator — began playing fast and loose with state law.
Expanding to five council members, none of them with any specific responsibilities, a city commission that used to have three members, each with specific responsibility for certain aspects of government, has yielded a body in which lack of individual responsibility makes it easy for bureaucrats and strongmen to rule in the place of elected officials.
Alas, the bureaucrats and strongmen have been far less than careful in drafting city ordinances. We all know how they tried to sneak through a charter ordinance that would have taken away voters’ rights by failing to include that part of the ordinance in the city’s newsletter. But did you know they also have sneaked through a bunch of other things and unintentionally forgot to include key items in the process?
It used to be that compensation of top city officials had to be set by ordinance — public documents that require votes by the council and are published for everyone to see. That provision was removed — silently, without letting anyone on the council know — when the city eliminated residency requirements for appointed officials.
In their haste to get rid of pesky provisions like that, bureaucrats overlooked a few other things. They accidentally, for example, left in city code a requirement that the assistant city clerk’s compensation be approved by ordinance. Despite her recent hefty raise, no ordinance approving that raise ever was passed. Nor was her salary even discussed, at least during portions of meetings that the public was allowed to attend.
Then there are bigger things missed by those rooting around in the state’s ill-advised home-rule law, which they routinely have violated by not clearly spelling out exactly what’s being deleted and exactly what will replace it.
By charter ordinance, the city rejected a state statute that specifies procedures for filling vacancies on the council. It neglected to create a procedure to be used instead. So it could be argued that the city has no authority to fill Costello’s now-vacant seat.
Also lost in a progression of charter ordinance repeals was a provision that gave the mayor — unlike mayors in other cities with a modified mayor-council-manager form of government — the right to vote on regular ordinances, resolutions, and other city matters.
For reasons unknown — and vehemently opposed at the time by several responsible leaders — the former three-member commission voted 2-1 in 2005 to adopt the council form of government but to give the mayor voting rights other mayors in similar situations did not possess. Later, however, the resulting five-member council repealed that charter ordinance in its entirety, forgetting to reinstate the mayor’s special voting rights in the process. So should our current mayor be blocked from voting except in ties or when discussing charter ordinances? That’s what state law would seem to require.
All of this is as absurd as the recall effort, hinging on a message one council member sent to others — a message the city refuses to make public. “Secret” evidence isn’t exactly in keeping with American tradition.
A second allegation is that she disclosed things from privileged sessions, even though none ever were called, and from other closed sessions, which not only were illegally closed but also were sessions that even the mayor and recall sponsor himself has publicly admitted she had no legal obligation to keep secret.
This, by the way, is the same mayor who clearly violated city ethics codes by insisting on becoming involved in discussions regarding a contract with his employer.
These transgressions may seem nitpicky to some, but America has existed for 2¼ centuries because it is a nation ruled by laws, not by bureaucrats or strongmen who assume power and decide to suspend whatever rules they don’t agree with.
America offers only two safeguards against this — for someone to be willing to spend a fortune taking an issue to court or for the public to stand up and clearly say no more.
It’s now to the point where every citizen of Marion has to make a decision whether he or she will remain silent and be part of the problem or will speak up and become part of the solution.
Otherwise, we all might as well do a reverse of Mennonite migration and move to Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
— ERIC MEYER