Being secretive and avoiding accountability in government can lead to public distrust. It can be problematic, too. Anyone holding public office, or considering a run for public office, should take note.
After years of being run by a secretive administration, the city of Nenana is mired in debt and scandal. Now, the current administration is dealing with the consequences and trying to clean up the mess. Nenana Mayor Pro Tem Jessica Shaw is taking the city in the right direction, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Mayor Shaw was appointed in April, after Mayor Jason Mayrand resigned. Mayrand had been mayor nearly 16 years.
In a June Nenana City Assembly meeting, Mayor Shaw outlined the city’s debts – totaling more than $755,000 — to public and private entities. She has also been up front about the possibility of Nenana’s power being shut off by Golden Valley Electric Association, which would result in the water and sewage systems also shutting down.
Copies of the fiscal 2019 budget are supposed to be ready and available to the public this week.
And, as painful as it was to close a library to save money, the city has more important obligations to worry about.
Although the reality of the situation is ugly, it’s good Mayor Shaw is being open about Nenana’s dire situation.
City officials could still do more to keep residents in the loop. During the same meeting, Nenana resident Adam White requested City Assembly agendas and documents be made available in advance of each meeting so people could be informed about what is happening at meetings. Mr. White’s request is reasonable, and Nenana should follow through. It is standard practice for municipal governments to make agendas and meeting packets available to anyone who wants them prior to a meeting. The people of Nenana should be able to know in advance about the business their elected officials are conducting at public meetings.
Another resident’s comment highlighted the need for residents to have their questions answered. Darcia Grace said she had questions about the city leasing the cultural center, but her phone calls have not been answered.
“… a lot of times no one’s answering. If you guys answered questions at these meetings, there wouldn’t be so much rumor and gossip,” Ms. Grace said.
Assemblyman Joshua Verhagen defended Mayor Shaw, saying there are too many questions for her to answer and oftentimes she does not have a good enough answer. It’s likely that she is simply overwhelmed. After all, Mayor Shaw is hoping to hire more administrative staff.
“The current setup is unrealistic. I live it daily. It’s a disaster,” she said about the staffing situation.
Nenana officials should implement a better method for answering the public’s questions. Whether that is altering the order of City Assembly meeting agendas by ordinance, a series of town hall meetings or some other method — the public deserves answers.
—Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, July 1, 2018