Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Record editorial: Silence in Englewood Cliffs

January 21, 2015 Last updated: Wednesday, January 21, 2015, 8:11 AM
ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS Mayor Joseph Parisi Jr. seems determined to make sure everyone in town knows he's the one in charge.
So he recently promulgated an executive order requiring council members who want information from borough employees to clear the requests with him first. Parisi's order also mandates that the mayor must approve all official borough communications to the public and media.
Such power grabs by mayors are hardly unique and are generally in response to political change, which apparently is the case here. Parisi, a Democrat, issued his order soon after Republican Lauren Eastwood was appointed to fill a council vacancy. Prior to joining the council, Eastwood frequently sought borough information through the Open Public Records Act.
Republicans suggest the mayor's order was a preemptive strike to keep Eastwood from continuing to make OPRA requests of borough employees. Parisi denies that, saying his order simply reinforces the way communication should be done.
We disagree. Council members, like the mayor, are elected by the people. If a council member has a pertinent question for the police chief or the head of the public works department, he or she should be able to ask the official directly. In a small town such as Englewood Cliffs, forcing council members to go through the mayor before they can get answers to simple questions introduces a bureaucratic regimen that is counterproductive.
Parisi's order also calls for all official borough communications to go through the mayor. That provision has the potential to curtail the ability, and the right, of council members to speak out.
While the mayor remains a municipality's chief spokesperson, council members have as much right as the mayor does to speak publicly on any issue they want. For example, if they don't like the proposed budget, they should say so. Elected officials can speak out at council meetings, at informal gatherings around town, in press releases or through social media. The mayor is not the only officeholder with a platform.
E. Carter Corriston Sr., the borough attorney, tellingly told The Record that there would be no legal sanctions against council members who violate the mayor's executive order.
That's not surprising, given the fact it's not against the law for an elected official to speak publicly or to ask borough employees questions. Nor should it be against borough policy.

No comments:

Post a Comment