It is no secret that I have a significant lack of regard for the governance of Coquille as administered by city manager, Terrence O’Connor. Before elaborating, let me say that more than once Mayor Britton has mentioned how much he would like to see more public involvement in city council meetings and matters pertaining to the city. To that end, several citizens including myself have made earnest attempts to obtain public information from the city in order to actively participate in city decision making. Regrettably, being armed with, what should be public information, in advance of a city council meeting is not easily done.
Simple things, like policy and procedure manuals for the city, the police department and other departments such as finance and public works are not available at the library. Many other cities provide copies of these reference materials at libraries or even offer them online, but not Coquille. Today, Jean Ivey, editor of The Sentinel has penned her own frustrations with getting public information in an editorial regarding records requests adopted by the council. How, Mayor Britton, are we supposed to participate in our local governance if we are not given access to information that affects us?
There is a common dilemma in the management field wherein the principal, in this case the citizens, or more accurately the city council, hire an agent or city manager to oversee the business of the city. Since none of us are present forty hours a week to oversee the actions and business being conducted by the city manager we must rely on other means to assess performance.
Do we have clean running water? Are the sewers working? Are emergency services in place? Are the bills paid? Are essential city services provided adequately and promptly? Can the city manager write grant requests? Is he helpful? Is he professional, courteous, responsive and considerate of the people who pay his salary?
Perhaps the manager is barely squeaking by. Maybe the city could do much better, have lower unemployment, better schools, fewer vacancies, a better quality of life. Job performance can be hard to assess and hence the above mentioned dilemma known as the principal-agent theory.
One way for taxpaying citizens to make informed decisions relating to principal-agent theory is to have access to public records. Before each council meeting each councilor is given a packet in advance of the next meeting and if citizens could also receive an advance copy, without paying a huge fee and filing a records request, we might be better prepared for these meetings.
The city budget also posted in this weeks paper indicates that next year, the city plans to spend even more on the police department, $827,707 or 34% of the general fund. Obviously, the city regards most of its 4,200 citizens as criminals, but will happily take tax dollars from everyone.
So, getting back to the principal-agent theory, why is the City of Coquille so reluctant to share public information? What do they want to hide?