Stick to the mission

Government inquiry shouldn't degenerate into quest for vengeance

In plenty of time for Halloween, Fred Russell donned pointy hat and broomstick and invited a witch hunt.

 

He’s gotten it.

The ultra-sanguine city administrator set about a restructuring of city government some months ago armed with the blessings of a slim majority of Augusta commissioners and a devil-may-care attitude about who knew what about his actions. His assistant administrators Monday professed little involvement, for instance, in some of the key aspects of the restructuring – in particular, raises going to 44 employees in a restructuring aimed at saving money, and at a time of contraction in every other sector of society.

Now, belatedly and in ill temper, the other commissioners who opposed the restructuring all along have embarked on an inquest of sorts to find out what he did and why. Monday, in Russell’s absence, they pelted department heads with questions.

We would urge the more inquisitive commissioners to follow their instincts – there’s been entirely too little information about all this, and much too little curiosity on the part of the majority of commissioners who approved the restructuring. But we implore them to avoid the appearance of a vendetta against anyone, and of treating city employees and department heads with accusatory contempt.

And while we appreciate requests for information as much as anyone, such requests can be used as a bludgeon. We pray commissioners aren’t employing a vindictive strategy of inundating Russell with demands for documents – though “It’s the playbook,” one close observer laments.

Commissioners probing the restructuring have a delicate task: getting to the bottom of things without making things worse. Morale won’t
be helped by a climate of fear and retribution. We need sunlight and answers, not vendettas.

 

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