At the council meeting this week, City Plan Commissioner Said Deep’s re-appointment was denied by a single “no” vote from Tafelski. To help explain why that happened, click this article from the Dearborn Patch. The article mentions a concern by the Mayor that Deep was blogging about the Goodwill issue while he was on the commission that was making the determination of whether Goodwill would get a special land use request and be able to move into the space they wanted in Dearborn. After four months and three different meetings, the Plan Commission finally approved the request. This article from the Press and Guide speaks a little more to what happened.
Said Deep, along with being the City Plan Commissioner, is a well-known Dearborn blogger. On his blog, deepsaidwhat.com, you can find information on upcoming events and interesting discussion and commentary about ongoing issues. Deep sometimes offers his opinion and sometimes puts it out there for others to discuss.
As a fellow blogger, I know that a blog is a great way to share your opinion without getting the message muddled. I can say what I want on my own blog and then people understand where I’m coming from. We often complain about how we wish we could get more information from the city on different issues and areas of interest. I have often said of our elected leaders, people probably wouldn’t be so upset about some decision they have made if we understood the information and reasoning behind it. A lack of information is one of the main reasons that Dearborn Residents for Accountability was formed in the first place.
I am a firm believer that, if a decision maker or leader simply tells others what their thought process is and what lead to a certain decision or action, there would be much more trust of the process and direction. Then the public will simply be able to decide if they thought it was the right or wrong decision, without having to question the motives behind it.
This is why, I was glad to read Said Deep’s blog and thoughts on the Goodwill issue as it was unfolding. I recognize he was using his blog as a way to explain his process and reasons for why he was voting the way he did. While there is always a bit of marketing one’s side in that forum, it’s simply a benefit of having your own blog as well. I didn’t agree with his opinion but I understood where he was coming from. His blog and the overwhelming local news reports created a conversation about the purpose and scope of the commission, and the values of the City of Dearborn (from all perspectives). I fail to see how that is a problem.
However, the concern about Deep’s blogging was echoed by Tafelski in this Dearborn Patch article. The article actually focuses on the controversy (…or not…) surrounding the Mayor’s comments that if he knew there wouldn’t be more than four council members, he would have pulled the issue from the agenda. This alone is an important issue to discuss but I think the blogging concern is a legitimate one as well. One commenter on the first Patch article questioned what confidential information Deep revealed and discussed the value they found in reading his comments as the issue progressed. This point lead me to question what the rules really are in regards to commissioners.
So, I turned to the charter. If you are unfamiliar, the complete City Charter, Code of Ordinances, and Zoning can be found here.
First, and probably most expected, the term “blog” does not appear at all in these documents.
The City Plan Commission details are found in the Code of Ordinances, Chapter 2, Article III, Division 2. It outlines how people are appointed, their duties, etc. Interestingly, Sec 2-384 says that the commission shall adopt its own rules and regulations of procedure. I couldn’t find any such thing on the city website but I would assume that if it included a ban on discussing any commission activities or blogging, then Said Deep would have been very aware of that. The only other rules indicate that they should hold public meetings, what quorum is, and other such details.
A look through the rest of the code and charter come up with nothing. Not one mention of confidentiality or discussing issues. In fact, Section 19.6 outlines some pretty harsh penalties for violating the charter:
“Any person found guilty of an act constituting a violation of this charter may be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or by imprisonment for not to exceed ninety days, or both, or as otherwise provided by law…”
These penalties certainly weren’t put into place against Deep, and it seems there is no ban in the city’s rules against blogging. I invite you to find the rule that has it or even suggests it because it’s lost on me.
So, then, what’s the problem and why did this issue become the thing that denied Deep his re-appointment?
The same commenter on the Patch suggested that perhaps the city was unhappy with Deep’s blog shedding light on the actual process or potential back-room agreements. Remember the concept here is that sharing information about why you do things helps to build trust and eliminate speculation? Yet again, the city has proven my point. There is no prohibition against blogging while on a commission, it doesn’t appear that Deep’s comments violated any unspoken ethical or confidentiality expectations of our commissioners, yet his actions were cited as the concern that eventually led to him losing his re-appointment without any specifics. Here comes the speculation!
Regardless of where that speculation takes you, the problem is that this action makes a statement and sets a dangerous precedent. It tells people that if you are a commissioner or work in a capacity for the city, less information is better. Also, don’t share your own opinions on current issues because that’s a fast way to being kicked out of your position.
As a resident of Dearborn and a person who has attended multiple meetings on various issues, not only do I think this is wrong but I demand better. I think we should have a designated blog for every commission in the city. Instead of attending a meeting where they vote to accept the last meetings’ minutes but you can’t see them and you only get a copy of what they are looking at if they made extra, we should be able to read complete minutes online and get a sense of the opinions of different commissioners on issues they are dealing with. And maybe actually understand what the heck is going on at all of these meetings.
Instead, the city has effectively silenced a very well-spoken and direct commissioner by taking away his appointment because he attempted to inform the public about what he was doing and why.
What do you think? Has the city gone too far? Is the blog issue a smokescreen for something else? I’d love to hear your thoughts!