Water talks in the open

Written by Baker City Herald Editorial Board September 04, 2013 08:12 am

In the wake of Baker City’s crypto outbreak, our elected city councilors have a responsibility to make sure that city employees responsible for the water system are doing their jobs competently, in order to prevent another public health crisis.

Unfortunately, the City Council’s public “work session” last Thursday accomplished little except to further confuse city residents who already have more questions than answers about this summer’s unprecedented contamination of their drinking water.

During that meeting councilors talked about the tone of emails they have received, apparently written by other councilors, dealing with alleged mistakes made by city staff.

Councilor Kim Mosier described the language of these emails as “hostile.”

Councilor Barbara Johnson deemed the missives “mean-spirited."

Trouble is, we don’t know who wrote these emails.

We don’t know which employees were mentioned.

(The Herald has requested, under Oregon’s public records law, emails to and from City Manager Mike Kee, Public Works Director Michelle Owen, Jake Jones, who oversees the watershed, and from any city councilors who have email accounts provided by the city.)

We agree with Mosier, who said during Thursday’s meeting: “We have a lot of things we need to get done.”

Ultimately, the Council’s task of assessing whether the staff is performing to a proper standard, in terms of managing the watershed, is far more important than debating the tone of emails.

And that assessment is an integral part of councilors’ most important goal, which is ensuring that the city is doing all it can to protect our water.

Which is why we urge the City Council to discuss its concerns, including those related to the staff’s performance, in open meetings which residents can attend (the next scheduled meeting, on Sept. 10, is slated to be a private meeting.)

Those discussions should be focused on solving problems and fixing mistakes.

City residents deserve to know that any such mistakes have been corrected.

Our elected officials should be responsive to their constituents, and that requires not merely airing grievances in private, but trying to address those concerns in public.