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GUEST COLUMN

Public criticism of city officials

At a recent council meeting, a motion was made to bind city council members to an unconstitutional code of conduct. While noble in intent, I took a principled stand to allow council members and the public the opportunity to express criticism of city officials.

At all times I have said that people should treat each other with dignity and respect. In my view, allowing citizens to express themselves is important to the functioning of our representative form of government. I learn from others, and appreciate all points of view. In order to make good decisions, council members need to hear all points of view from the citizens.

People should be treated with common courtesy because that is the decent thing to do. There are some that think this issue should be dealt with by the Sunnyside Municipal Code. I respectfully disagree. We cannot legislate good manners by issuing a decree from council. Furthermore, it is abhorrent to think that the government is going to be in charge of determining who is exhibiting the proper "respect" towards others.

One provision of the so-called code of conduct is "never publicly criticize an individual employee." The code of conduct also prohibits this same criticism in private conversation. In effect, it prohibits council members from calling out corruption, incompetence, inefficiency or a host of other issues that may need to be addressed.

This does not pass the smell test. My colleagues who are crying the loudest for "respect" are unwittingly failing to perform the full duties of their position. Despite the best of intentions, those that are trying to silence their opposition on the altar of "respect" are missing the big picture.

Scott M. Missall, a municipal law attorney, recently sent a fax to the mayor addressing this issue. A copy of this communication is being provided to this newspaper along with my comments. Mr. Missall says:

"...each Council member is an independently elected City official, and it is therefore incumbent on him or her to abide by state law and the constitution, which each Council member has sworn to uphold, in the execution of their duties. It would be in derogation of those responsibilities and statutes for any Council member to be less than forthcoming in public about governance or management issues connected with the performance of a city manager. Similarly, it would be improper for one Council member to attempt to curtail another Council member's public comments or concerns about a city manager's performance."

While I respect my colleagues on council, and appreciate the work they do for our community, I will continue to do my part of the heavy lifting as well. Whether it is tackling the issue of out of control legal bills ($770,000 in a 28-month period), or laying off police officers which allowed shootings to increase from 17 to 38 (a 124 percent increase from 2009 to 2010) and homicides to increase an astounding 600 percent in the same time period; I will not stop pushing for public safety and sensible spending as priorities at City Hall.

The good news is that the police department's "Gang Elimination Strategy" is producing positive results for our city. According to statistics recently compiled by the city's crime analyst, shootings decreased from 38 in 2010 to 21 in 2011. This is a 45 percent reduction following the hiring of additional officers, and implementing an aggressive stance against the violent offenders. This strategy saw homicides decrease from six in 2010, to only one in 2011.

And while council has not received a monthly financial statement from city staff in 2012, until the recent hiring of Mr. Sweet, our new Interim City Manager has promised we will be getting monthly financial reports from this time forward.

Armed with this information, we can make the difficult decisions that will be required in order to stop using reserve funds to balance the city budget. With all due respect, these are the sensible spending patterns that citizens should expect from Council.

- Jason R. Raines is a Sunnyside

City Councilman

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