The sounds of silence

Published 10:40 am Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Generally, I begin my columns with some snarky or cynical bit of humor, or perhaps a quote from a great writer or noted politician, but such literary delicacies are beyond me today as I ponder the Orwellian-esque vow of silence that has been forced upon city workers by the current mayor in an attempt, somehow, to guard against the prying eyes and mean-spirited inscribings of the local press.

To be sure, my most recent harvest of fury was sown via a statement from the City of Selma Cemetery Department announcing that weekend funerals would no longer be performed at city-owned cemeteries because of “limited manpower” in the department.

That in itself is enraging, but not at all surprising – the mayor has refused to bring back workers he laid off two years ago, despite the city’s treasurer having affirmed that funds were available to do so and the council voting more than once to allocate funds for that purpose, and has stood idly by as the city crumbled around him – and it would do little good to gripe on further about the wasted tax dollars being funneled into the city to provide a bevy of services that are currently not being rendered.

No, dysfunction and negligence are part of the mayor’s usual modus operandi, as is secrecy, but it is this final tool in the mayor’s macabre political toolbox that inflicts the most real and lasting damage upon Selma and its people.

For the last few years, local folks have grown adept at finding workarounds for the dysfunction and negligence, largely because they’ve taken on jobs undone by the city themselves, spending countless hours picking up trash, clearing overgrown lots, even patching potholes, but the secrecy is much more difficult to get around.

Just in the course of reporting on the Cemetery Department’s cancellation of weekend services I ran into this wall of silence – no one is empowered to discuss even how many employees are in the department, let alone how the decision was made to cancel Saturday and Sunday services or what action is being taken to address the shutdown.

The department head can’t be held responsible – each of us has a job to do and we’re expected to follow the rules governing that job in order to keep it – but the CEO, the one over “day-to-day operations,” which in the case of all city functions is the mayor, a point he takes great pride in reinforcing, can absolutely be blamed.

Aside from possibly guarding against a bruised ego, what is there to gain from keeping such a stranglehold on basic information?

The press, as well as the people of Selma, should absolutely feel empowered to bring concerns to city leaders and have confidence that those leaders are providing them with accurate information related to their concerns and making good-faith efforts to allay those concerns.

Transparency is not an ideal, it is an action and is yet another one that the current administration has refused to take.

Even if the sounds of that transparency are cacophonous, they serve the people better than the continual and poisonous sounds of silence.