What happened to transparency?
A draft report for the Dewey Beach audit committee has proven so contentious, two committee members resigned and a citizen has been charged with theft after he left a meeting with the document.
Committee member Diane Tenhoopen said she had been told she would be removed from the committee if she questioned anything. In light of off-the-books bank accounts and a nonexistent account for charitable donations, Tenhoopen told the committee that, in any other town, responsible employees already would have been fired. Not waiting to be kicked off the committee, she quit.
At the end of the meeting, a Cape Gazette reporter and others took the draft document with them as they left. The committee chair then demanded the return of one copy from a citizen. When he declined, he was subsequently charged with theft and disorderly conduct. A no-contact order has also been issued.
Draft or not, the report, emailed to town officials and handed out at the meeting to the committee and other citizens, provided the basis for committee deliberations. A document asked for by a public body, paid for with public dollars, distributed during a public meeting and used as the basis for public discussion, is the very definition of a public document.
Government should encourage citizens to obtain and read civic documents, especially one about the handling of funds by the police department. That those same police are charging a person with theft of a public document shows dissent is not welcome in Dewey Beach.
What happened to campaign promises of transparency? Transparency requires open records, accountability and listening to dissent. Arresting a citizen for pursuing his right to review public records is the opposite of transparency. These charges send a chilling message that anyone who demands accountability in Dewey Beach will face harassment from a police force mired in ongoing controversy.
When a citizen steps down citing intimidation and another is arrested for theft of a public document, government cannot claim transparency. As each edition of the Cape Gazette states, the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.
Arresting a citizen for performing a civic duty is not just wrong-headed. It is a serious threat to our democracy, even in Dewey Beach.