And still we wait for city vaults to open to the light

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, March 11, 2020

As I rose from the bed Tuesday morning, I knew I was going to have to have a talk with my hands, those wiry, self-aware extensions that are the vehicle by which I practice my craft, for the column I was planning to write was one they had written multiple times before and, best I could tell, had no interest in writing again.

I spoke kindly to them, but they protested – surely, they seemed to say, there’s no need to tread this ground again, already your path can be seen in the perpetually darkened grass upon which you’ve walked, but I insisted and, after a couple of cups of coffee and a hot shower, they relented.

Weeks have passed since Selma City Councilman Carl Bowline brought forth a new request for information document, which would make accessing public information in the city easier and more affordable, and still the document has not been approved by the council.

To be sure, it’s not the council that’s to blame for this seemingly endless foot dragging – the council widely supported the change and Selma City Attorney Major Madison indicated that, at least from a legal standpoint, there’s no issue with approving the document and instituting the prescribed changes – as the document has been sitting for at least a couple of weeks in the City Clerk’s office, reportedly so that the document can be reviewed and edited appropriately.

Leaving aside the fact that there is absolutely nothing to review or edit in this document, as it simply brings the dispersion of public information into the 21st Century, cuts the time employees have to spend acquiring information and makes access more affordable for the common citizen, I find myself wondering – though not honestly, as I have my own inclinations as to the reasons – why there has been such a delay in approving this new document.

Maintaining a shroud over public information only causes the public to distrust its elected officials – Bowline himself said as much when he first introduced the new document – and city hall has done everything aside from hold a press conference and announce boldly that it would prefer that people not see the documents hidden within its bowels.

When one is kept in darkness, he begins to develop his own theories about what be surrounding him in the darkness – as such, a people cutoff from access to information that, technically, belongs to them can hardly stand the urge to theorize on what might be hidden in those documents so diligently kept from the public’s view.

To be sure, I am not insinuating that there is anything criminal or questionable in the mounds of documents the people can’t see – indeed, how would I know? – but the fact that it can’t be seen and people’s darkest fears dispelled only leads to further questions, rumors, gossip and conspiracy theories.

Whatever the holdup in city hall – whether it is legitimate concern on the part of the City Clerk’s office, which seems unlikely, or some edict from on high insisting that all steps be taken to stall the passage of this document, which seems unnecessary considering that city hall has thus far shown no inclination to enact any of the measures approved by the council – this document should be approved immediately for the good of the city and its people.

Bowline is committed to bringing the document to a vote at the next council meeting, with or without the approval of the City Clerk’s office, but it would absolutely speak volumes of the mayor’s administration if there could be unified support for the new form and the ideals it represents: information belongs to the people and should be accessible by the people at a reasonable cost with minimal bureaucracy.