Todd: Say what you want...really!
Say what you want about Ouray City Administrator Patrick Rondinelli…really, say what you want.
You always could. At every City Council meeting there is a public comment period. If you ever have any comment as to how Patrick is running the city, you can stand up and say so.
Of course, when and if you do, Patrick will be sitting there and will be able to respond. And council may ask him questions about your constructive comments. They may also ask you questions. Patrick would be able to respond to council's questions. You might even stumble into an actual conversation with council about your concerns and/or commendations regarding Patrick.
That's the way it should be.
Yet, a few weeks ago the majority of council decided to allow unsigned, confidential comments to be submitted to the city by Ouray citizens with the express purpose of allowing council to use what it deems true and relevant from those comments in evaluating Patrick's job performance.
The council was elected by the citizens of Ouray to manage the laws and welfare of the city. Part of that responsibility is to be the boss of the city administrator. This is an open process. The council cannot operate in the shadows, and their decisions and the processes at arriving at those decisions should be open and transparent.
By Jan. 10, however, the council will be accepting unsigned, "confidential" letters from the public, and it presumably has no intention of revealing these letters to the public from whence they came. Your city administrator's job future could very well be affected by anonymous letter writers. A policy has been constructed to receive these and a legal notice has run in the Plaindealer stating the construct of this policy.
Nowhere in the legal notice, in written replies to the Plaindealer from city staff or city attorney nor on the city website does it state how these letters will be confirmed as written from Ouray citizens. The letters don't have to be signed. There is no policy to check a person's identification. And there is no limit as to how many letters, or forms, can be submitted at once or over time up to deadline.
This is nothing short of bad policy.
Let's say one letter states that Patrick manages his employees in a certain way. But it is just one letter. It doesn't give specifics, nor have clear references that the council can act upon. The council disregards it.
Next, the council fields 375 letters all pertaining to an alleged specific managerial action taken by Patrick. The council thinks there is something to this and inquires.
In the first case, it's one against one, letter writer vs. Patrick. In the second case, it's 375 against one. What if both accusations are true? What if neither is true? What if you were a council member and you were the swing vote and wanted clarification from the letter writer? You can't get it because the letter is unsigned. What if you're Patrick and you want clarification? Not a chance.
What if you're a citizen and you just find out your city administrator has been penalized in some manner because of something written on an anonymous letter, and you want the contents of that letter. Presumably, the council and city will not release that because it has promised confidentiality of comments.
Thus, we now have a system in place in Ouray that governs, at least partially so, the city administration by anonymous, unsigned confidential letters.
Now, imagine that the 375 letters mentioned above are all written by the same person. And, imagine that they are all written by the relative or friend of an employee at the city that has a gripe with Patrick as a boss. Or, the letters are written by the employee himself. Perhaps that person is constantly late to work and Patrick, as any boss would do, begins the process of taking corrective action. If you're the employee, just start a letter-writing campaign and make all sorts of nefarious accusations against your boss.
Certainly, there is a procedure at the city that allows employees recourse when addressing concerns regarding their boss, including if Patrick is the boss. But why follow those when you can write 375 anonymous letters to the council and first see where that gets you?
The city and the council cannot promise any expectation of confidentiality to the letter writers. The Plaindealer absolutely believes that these letters, or forms, in their entirety are public record and can be obtained by anyone through an open records request. Even those with signatures, though the process promises signatures will be removed, will have to be made available in whole, signatures and all.
Imagine an anonymous charge is made against Patrick, and it is a serious accusation, yet the council chooses to ignore it. Then, imagine it turns out to be true and the person harmed is the letter writer and an employee and kept a copy. This opens the city up to all sorts of possible liabilities. On the other hand, as it is now, if a council member is approached with a similar concern, that council member can ask that person to go through proper city procedures, whether that person is an employee or a citizen.
Lastly, imagine a council member who does not have Patrick's interests at stake. That council member can move to take action based on anonymous claims that he or she doesn't even have to cite.
When the city's business is conducted clearly and out in the open, the risks to the city are reduced or eliminated, and any shadowy nature of governance is not pro forma procedure.
Alan Todd is co-publisher of the Ouray County Plaindealer. He can be reached at 970-325-2838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.