Monday, July 21, 2008

The Connection Between a Deer and Open Government

By Terry E. Cohen, Council Member

Friday, Salisbury Zoo Director Joel Hamilton provided an update on the “perruque-headed” deer about which so many citizens have expressed concern or puzzlement, or both. I’d like to thank Mr. Hamilton for his comprehensive report to the council. The 3-page report appears below this post in images you can click to enlarge and read.

I appreciate Mr. Hamilton’s responsiveness to this situation. It’s unfortunate that my efforts last year to have a simple conversation in order to be responsive to constituent concerns could not have been met with a similar prompt and constructive reaction from the administration and council leadership. (See posts from this past week).
Deer Part 1,
Deer Part 2,
Deer Part 3

When legislators in our three-branch form of government are elected, they are not selected to merely sit in a room and rubber stamp law. They are elected to serve as representatives of the people. Doing so involves oversight and constituent service, not just legislation. I make the effort to do all three.

This situation with the deer became overly complicated by an obstructive approach to government that minimizes the importance of the legislator as a representative of the people. Before Councilwoman Debbie Campbell was even sworn in, an email from then-Council President Mike Dunn to Mayor Barrie Tilghman sought to find ways to keep Councilwoman Campbell from talking freely with department heads. Substitute a tax increase, wastewater treatment spills or any number of issues for the controversy over the deer and perhaps you can better appreciate the significance of this pattern.

If the administration “trusts the staff” as much as proclaimed, then let them operate as the adults I believe them to be, capable of making their own appointments and having conversations with legislators without the micromanagement and monitoring of their every exchange with the people’s duly elected representatives. Direct questions from Councilwoman Campbell and me to department heads for the purpose of oversight have been mislabeled at every opportunity as “demands” and “personal attacks” to undermine accountability and communication.

Communication is the bedrock of cooperation in achieving goals and a government responsive to the people. I know the difference between making inquiries and positive communication toward solutions versus directing staff.

It’s not my job to tell Mr. Hamilton what the best option is for the deer. For example, as he notes in his report, while surgery may be an option, it carries risks as well, from how anesthesia is administered to control of bleeding afterward. Even experts in any field will disagree on the best course of action for a situation.

Mr. Hamilton has made a commitment to look into care options, been prompt and comprehensive in his response, and provided an opportunity for the concerned public to better understand the animal and the situation. At this point in time, I think that effort is to be commended and needs to be allowed to progress.

As for the larger matter about hindering legislators in the performance of their duties, I can hope that, in time, the administration and council leadership will be more open and welcoming in the future. In the meantime, more citizens are taking notice and taking issue with being disenfranchised by such acts.

To read Mr. Hamiltons update click on the photos below to enlarge.

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