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“Secrecy and Money”, published 08-09-17, was accurate as far as it went, but somehow avoided ever explaining my motives. Someone who tried to piece together the various quotes in the article would have been left thinking I have some mania for secret dealings, or maybe a morbid fear of the public.
When I first set up the subcommittee to review the audit findings, the plan was to hold our meetings in public. Later, I was asked to reduce the membership so it fell below the number necessary to trigger the Open Meetings Act, and I agreed to do so. Then your reporter called, and I tried to explain the policy tradeoffs, but he seemed fixated on the idea we were trying to hide something from the public. As I tried to explain to him, I saw pluses and minuses to each approach, and was willing to go along with the other members of the Commission, and it didn’t bother me that the City Pulse was hot on the trail. However, his interest fell upon a Commissioner who cares more about pleasing the media than I do, which caused yet another shift, this time back to openness.
As I have tried unsuccessfully to explain to your reporter, the nub of Ingham County’s audit problem isn’t a faulty organization chart or some generalized lack of communication, regardless of what is said at public meetings. Our problems arise from the failures of one or more specific people to do their jobs. At a public meeting, no names are going to be used, nor even specific references to job titles. Any discussion will be euphemistic and elliptical. A member of the public listening would think we were discussing the wording of reports and the pathways traveled by various bits of information. In fact, the messages conveyed among the members would be coded references to individuals, whose identities we automatically protect, even as we criticize them. Indeed, during the entire 90 minute meeting (held August 3) there was plenty of vigorous criticism, but it was never directed at any identifiable target.
Later this month - the exact date hasn’t been fixed - we’ll hold another public meeting to discuss the specific steps to fix the continuing problems identified by the auditors - but we still won’t use any names. That discussion of specific employees, which is a critical part of the County Board’s management of the County, will be conducted outside the public’s view, primarily by telephone. I explained this to your reporter, but he either didn’t understand me, or didn’t think it was worth printing.
There’s nothing unusual in having to balance the public’s right to know against the reality of employment confidentiality; sometimes they come into conflict that can’t be resolved by platitudes. I guess the City Pulse was startled that I would admit as much on the record.
- Mark Grebner East Lansing (The writer is an Ingham County commissioner.)