Thursday, October 18, 2007

Mayoral candidates offer stark, distinct choices

For the first time in six years, voters in Concord will go to the polls on Nov. 6 and cast a vote for a new mayor. Mayor Mike Donovan decided earlier this summer to step down and two people have forwarded themselves as candidates. Mayor Pro-temp Jim Bouley and Councilor Kathy Rogers are the candidates running.

To voters the candidates may seem similar. Both Bouley and Rogers have served the eastern part of the city for long periods of time. Both could be characterized as having relatively liberal philosophies politically. Both have taken similar stands on issues which have come before the Council.

But that’s where the similarities end. One of the most important jobs the mayor performs is presiding over Council meetings. The way the two candidates have run meetings in the past and how they handle public relations are a stark contrast.

In the past, Bouley has presided over Council budget hearings and other meetings as Mayor Pro-temp, whenever Donovan was not able to attend. Bouley runs a steady meeting, allowing people to volunteer information which they feel is important to their points, without interruption. Whenever anyone, including his own colleagues, becomes a bit belligerent, he jumps in to avoid an escalation of conflict.

Bouley also seems like a contemplative thinker. He may not agree with a person but he listens with an open mind to what everyone has to say. In these days of divisive politics, that is a pretty good trait for a prospective mayor to have.

Juxtapose that with the way Rogers has presided over Rules Committee meetings as chairwoman. In those meetings, Rogers had a clearly held biased towards a certain outcome of the proceedings—the protection of the cable media access center where she hosts a program and has been reportedly given preferential treatment—a complete conflict of interest. Calling the Rules Committee, under Rogers’ management, a kangaroo court would be kind.

For example, during a meeting in 2006, Rogers allowed more than an hour of testimony attacking a resident who had brought legitimate concerns before the committee. The testimony, which could be better described as relentlessly personal attacks, bordered on slander and libel. Shockingly, the perpetrators were not contained by Rogers.

However, when others tried to counter the attacks with legitimate questions about the state’s open meeting laws and access to public records, Rogers cut the testimony off. She said the comments had no bearing on the questions at hand—even though the cable access media center has refused to abide by the law. The records, as was later noted, could have potentially proven the points of the petitioner.

But that isn’t where it ends.

After the meeting, the petitioner filed additional paperwork with Rogers and the committee. One of the documents proved that a former city councilor testifying during the committee hearing had not told the truth. Instead of considering the evidence provided—which proved the petitioner’s point—Rogers called the Concord Police Department and requested that a detective investigate how the petitioner obtained the document. As it turned out, the document was legally obtained from the city manager’s office. A simple phone call or email to the petitioner would have answered that question for Rogers. Instead of communicating openly and honestly with the resident, voter, and taxpayer, Rogers chose to target the person with a police investigation. It was a clear abuse of power, probably done to embarrass and humiliate the person she targeted.

A few months later, at a public forum hosted by the Council, a couple of residents brought up the issue of Rogers’ abuse of power and the fact that public records were still not available. But Mayor Donovan sloughed off their concerns and the Council sat silent. Rogers also sat silently, refusing to apologize to the targeted individual or, for that matter, the public, for wasting the taxpayer’s money on a bogus police investigation.

How Rogers dealt with these incidents and her role in the proceedings have led many to question her ability to lead the city as mayor. And voters are not the only ones questioning Rogers’ lack of leadership skills.

Last week, a press release was sent out by 10 of Rogers’ colleagues on the Council. In it, they openly endorsed Bouley. The only councilor backing Rogers is Ward 2 Councilor Bill Stetson, a retired firefighter and former board member of the cable access media center. Rogers has also received the endorsement of the firefighter and police unions. In a recent Concord Monitor article, Rogers claimed she was not getting support from her colleagues because she wants to force the Council to be more open.

But for all her talk about open communication, open records, open meetings, and open dialogue, as an elected official, Rogers has done the exact opposite.

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