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Editor's Voice: Are our borough leaders capable of governing?

Posted 9/25/12

This is the place where we try to sway you. The editorial page, the spot where we try to get you to think the way we do. Just about every newspaper has one, and has used it to influence your opinion, though with mixed results. How many people do you …

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Editor's Voice: Are our borough leaders capable of governing?

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Our officials at Middletown Borough Hall seem to disagree. When more than 100 people jammed a public hearing, held by a local pastor, on recent controversial decisions by Middletown Borough Council, including the defunding of the venerable Middletown Public Library, they blamed the Press And Journal for residents’ anger and dissatisfaction.

“I think that it’s time that Mr. Sukle (Publisher Joe Sukle) stops hiding behind Pastor (Vernal) Simms’ robes and ends his misinformation campaign and starts working for the good of the borough instead of creating unrest for his own personal gain,’’ Chris Courogen, borough secretary and director of communications, told one of our reporters. He made similar comments to Pennlive.com, charging that those who organized the public meeting at The Event Place on Sept. 20 were only trying to “foment unrest based on misinformation.’’

Well, what better opportunity to correct the “misinformation’’ than address 100 of your constituents yourself?

None of the nine councilors showed at the public meeting. Two of them – Council President Christopher McNamara and vice president Robert Louer – joined Borough Manager Tim Konek a half block down the street, painting a railroad crossing sign as people arrived for the meeting, a vantage point that would allow one, if they were so inclined, to observe everyone going in and out. This, apparently, is how local politicians play the game of politics. It would be amusing if it didn’t show such contempt for the people they serve. Asked by one of our reporters if he planned to go to the meeting after his painting detail, McNamara replied, “For what?’’

We welcomed and embraced Pastor Simms’ public meeting, as we do any attempt to inform the public about the public’s business. The library, the communications center – closed by council recently – and other assets under consideration by council to be cut or sold to lower borough expenses belong to the people who attended the meeting, too. They have a right to know what will happen to them – and defend them, if they choose, before a council vote.

Unfortunately, the current council majority has imposed a lock-down on information. Employees were required to sign a “communications policy’’ restricting their ability to speak freely. Department heads were banished from council meetings. Big Ideas, such as the library defunding, come from the floor, as if on impulse – they are not listed on agendas or studied by blue ribbon committees, and rarely debated by councilors publicly, and they have passed nearly unanimously.

Perhaps council’s secrecy is what has fomented unrest. Perhaps residents have grown distrustful of a council that has made some monumental decisions on borough services, such as council’s ham-handed move to force the library to operate as a nonprofit on its own, without public discourse. While a majority of council was voted into office on promises of cutting expenses, we doubt many voters expected the purge that council has conducted so far. Council’s contempt for contrary opinions, and its refusal to attempt to inform those its leaders assert are “misinformed,’’ is perhaps the source of any discontent.

It makes us wonder if this council is capable of good governance.

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