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Editorial: Rehoboth officials continue to meet in secret

January 29, 2019

Back when he was a candidate, Rehoboth Beach Mayor Paul Kuhns said he believes “in an open, transparent and responsible government for all.”

Yet it was Kuhns – apparently with no input from fellow commissioners – who personally approached Sussex County about taking over the recently completed ocean outfall. It was also Kuhns who decided to unveil the plan in an executive session attended by city and county officials, but not the public.

When the public finally had a chance to comment, opposition to the takeover was so intense the plan has been shelved.

But now Kuhns, with no public announcement and no call for volunteers, has personally chosen members of a committee to review sewer rates. He also decided the committee is not subject to open meeting rules.

The city attorney may find a way to justify the mayor’s decision, and the mayor may have good reasons for appointing the people he selected.

But why does a mayor who ran on a platform of transparency now insist on secret meetings and a handpicked committee that meets behind closed doors? How do closed meetings promote the transparent government Kuhns envisioned?

Now the Cape Gazette has learned the personnel committee, made up of four commissioners – which is a quorum – will meet in secret. The mayor says that’s legal because the committee is advisory.

Personnel committees should meet in private to discuss individual cases. But this meeting was to discuss changes to employee policies. Policy discussions should be public, so everyone can understand how decisions are made.

Beyond that,  when a quorum of city officials meets and the public is excluded, how will anyone ever know exactly what they discussed? Meeting behind closed doors only raises questions, and those questions all too often lead to distrust. What questions could there be that the public should not hear?

The citizens of Rehoboth are interested in city problems and energized to solve them. Secrecy only frustrates this civic spirit.

It is through open discussion – not secrecy – that city officials can engage this energy, develop consensus and move the city forward.

 

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, publisher, and Laura Ritter, news editor, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, associate publisher.