Our Voice

City’s silence is not golden

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Transparency has been a political watchword in multiple campaigns for Tracy City Council, and has even led to good policy.

The city website, www.cityoftracy.org, now includes an “OpenGov” tab at the top of the screen that leads people to financial statements and other public city documents.

In the past few years, the City Council has installed a computer outside the city clerk’s office for the public to peruse documents from Freedom of Information Act requests.

These were excellent decisions by our city leaders that increase access to public information.

Which is why many local folks are baffled by recent decisions to withhold information that is clearly of public concern.

Taken as a whole, the dismissal of former City Manager Troy Brown, appointment of Fire Chief Randy Bradley as interim replacement, and unexplained “leave of absence” of Assistant City Manager Stephanie Garrabrant-Sierra are all major changes for the city.

It is certainly nothing new for a governing body to select a new chief executive to execute the body’s governing decisions. If the majority of the City Council had said, for example, “We felt Brown’s style of management was not a good match for our plans going forward,” at least that would be a response. Instead, the community has heard nothing. Council members who have spoken tangentially about their feelings on the matter have been publicly threatened with prosecution for violating the Brown Act. The act governs public meetings but not what council members say to the public to provide insight into their votes — and there is no criminal violation in doing so.

The council did offer slightly more explanation of why four members voted for Bradley, referencing his handling of a recent disagreement with the county over response to medical calls. There was no indication, however, of why members felt Bradley was qualified to be a city manager. Nor was there any explanation of why Garrabrant-Sierra, the assistant city manager, was not considered a viable choice.

Last week, Bradley said only that Garrabrant-Sierra was on leave and that the reason for and duration of the leave were personnel matters that he was not free to discuss.

The lack of explanation for these decisions leaves the community to speculate about the reasons for the firing of Brown and what appears to be the eventual official termination of Garrabrant-Sierra. Why did three members of the City Council feel it was necessary to clean house at the top of the City Hall hierarchy? How will the city accomplish its goals without the two key people who have been involved in important and even urgent city issues? Is a recruitment process in place?

When City Manager Leon Churchill was fired in 2013, the city released a copy of the separation agreement with him. That was a good precedent, and we hope soon to learn more specifics about Brown’s termination and the financial agreement between him and the city. Same would apply to Garrabrant-Sierra, assuming that she is also terminated.

The mayor and other council members campaigned on transparency. While the City Council deserves credit for opening up some areas of government, the community is getting the opposite of transparency in this case, and all the unanswered questions have left many with only one: “What’s going on at City Hall?”

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