Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Monday, September 19, 2011

Can employees hide from public in WBLS inquiry?

Those testifying will be under oath.
Plainfielders have waited over a year to get to the bottom of the mysterious funding of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs' August 2010 community forum on gangs and violence, and may see the Council getting to the bottom of the matter at a special meeting on Wednesday night.

I say 'may' because I was given pause by a sentence in Mark Spivey's Courier article last week on the meeting (see here) and scheduled a post on the matter for today --

...McWilliams estimated that four or five employees would be subpoenaed, noting that each will have the option of whether to testify in a public or private setting... (emphasis added, DD)
Since this is a factfinding investigation and NOT A PERSONNEL HEARING, I fail to understand any basis for offering employees an option for testimony in executive session.

The only two questions are --

1) If documents have been withheld, will they be divulged on Wednesday and if not, why not?; and

2) If the Council needs to know who did what when and why, what basis could there be for secrecy about the performance of public duties by public employees?
If Mayor Robinson-Briggs has demanded or otherwise pressured any employees to refuse to cooperate, there is a question of whether she has crossed a bright line into impropriety.

If there is harassment or the threat of retaliation against employees who cooperate, the Robinson-Briggs administration needs to be put on notice that that will not be put up with.

Olddoc's post of Friday (see here) where he discusses the upcoming special Council meeting and the question of non-public testimony garnered a long and thoughtful comment by reader Alan Goldstein (see here), which I am taking the liberty of reprinting in full here --

Our legal system doesn't leave room for "Star Chambers" held in secret.

Because the City Council is taking up the WBLS matter by choosing the route of issuing legal subpoenas, my question is, can it legally conduct its investigation in the privacy of executive session?

My sense is the Council ought to get a firm and independent legal opinion on this before willy-nilly deciding to close it to the public.

Once the subpoenas have been served, it is a legal issue and has moved beyond the lower bar of being a personnel issue.

Perhaps the Council can limit public attendence as courts may do under certain circumstances, but they may not entirely eliminate it.

Those subpoenaed are in jeopardy of a fine or imprisonment if they choose not to attend.

Our justice system demands the proceedings be held in the bright light of day, or the matter dropped.

City government is not a private club, and when the City Council sets itself up as judge and jury it must be done in the open before the people."
Up to this point, the issue has been the Council getting enough information to determine if any improprieties were committed in connection with funding the radio program.

If employees are concerned about testifying, it seems more logical to expect that the Robinson-Briggs administration would provide legal counsel for those questioned about the performance of their duties and the only options would be to answer questions fully and frankly in a public meeting or to claim their rights against self-incrimination under the Constitution, rather than to take testimony in closed session.

Nothing more, nothing less.

That being said, prudence and due diligence demand that the Council be prepared for the possibility that further action will need to be taken -- either by the Council itself or by an external agency such as the Prosecutor's office.

In the event, there would be a need for a certified transcript of the hearing, which implies having a certified court stenographer at Wednesday's meeting to take a complete, official and certifiable record of the proceedings.

(As was done when the City conducted a public hearing into allegations that the temporary park built on the Park-Madison lot before its redevelopment placed the parcel irrevocably on the State's open space registry.)

Hopefully, the Robinson-Briggs administration will stop stonewalling on Wednesday and we can close the book on this contentious chapter.


  8:00 PM

City Hall Library
515 Watchung Avenue
(Parking and entry in the rear)

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Rob said...

She's simply going to wait em out...Doesn't matter the reason or the outcome...She'll wait em out. It's an election year...the feel good "We are family" fest is right around the corner!!

Bob said...

I am sure that this mayor has pressured employees to do things not proper and will continue to do so. I have heard this from employees and relatives of employees and do not trust her now. If this found to be the case here, then this mayor should be arrested and put on trial. Plainfield employees work in fear of their jobs for this unstable administration. Like the Queen of Hearts, she thinks she answers to no one, but she does. So. Off with Her Head, if she has done wrong.