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Guest viewpoint

Former councilman defends city manager

March 05, 2014 - The Clarkston News is doing its best to stoke controversy again. ("Response heats up," Feb. 26). Since City Manager Carol Eberhardt has declined to talk to the News, the News has embarked on an apparent crusade to retaliate against her. Last week it announced a project to investigate the city's responses to Freedom of Information Act requests. This week is says it's going to rehash the selection process for the city manager.

Let's look at some facts. Eberhardt decided not to talk to the News because it has consistently provided a forum for Cory Johnston's unwarranted criticism of city government. Although the News apparently views Johnston as an upright citizen simply expressing his views and raising legitimate questions, it apparently hasn't seen how he operates and hasn't been the target of his ire.

When I was on the city council, I and other council members and the city manager were the recipients of a constant barrage of vituperative ill-informed communications from Johnston criticizing virtually everything that Clarkston city government does. I'm confident that has continued, as exemplified by Johnston's 25-page letter referenced in the February 5 article, "City spat unresolved despite many letters".

In what passes for journalism now, the News repeats Johnston's accusations without investigating whether they are well-founded. It's one thing to print letters to the editor or opinion pieces. But representing unsubstantiated opinions as "news" is something else. I can't blame Eberhardt for not wanting to participate in a process that encourages Johnston's relentless crusade against city government.

The News and others criticize Eberhardt for cutting off communication with the News. Although I would prefer to see a continued dialogue with a reasoned response to the accusations that the News trumpets, the city manager's job is not to have a dialogue with the News. It is to run the day-to-day business of city government. And Carol Eberhardt has done a great job of that in the short time she was been city manager. Among other things she has:

• Reduced DPW overhead by reorganizing the department and eliminating a less-than-productive position while continuing the same level of services.

• Found a competent, well-experienced replacement for the city clerk in a market where the city can offer only part-time employment without benefits.

• Instituted regular staff meetings to improve communication among staff members and coordinate their work.

• Cross-trained the office staff so that they can cover for one another when needed.

• Modernized the city's phone system so that there is better access to city staff and less time spent answering questions that should be directed elsewhere.

• Instituted regular written reports of the city manager's activities so that the council and public are aware of what is going on.

• Regularized the budgeting process so that the budget is more closely monitored and amended before instead of after unanticipated expenditures are needed.

• Enabled the council to establish a Freedom of Information Act policy.

• Sparked the organization of the Think Positive Clarkston group, which has already organized two well-attended community events in Depot Park.

There are probably a number of other things that don't come to mind now. But the point is that she is doing her job and doing it well. If she chooses not to talk to the News, that's a minor point in the overall picture. And its not as though there aren't other channels of communication.

The village hall door is open and Eberhardt will talk to citizens who have concerns. She responds to emails. And posts information on Facebook. And instituted a periodic newsletter to residents. Don Rush's insinuation that there is something to hide is unfounded.

Anyone can see what the council is doing by the material posted on the city's web site, attending council meetings, or watching the meetings on cable.

And now the announced rehash of the city manager selection process: This was thoroughly discussed last year. I closely monitored the process, since it was something that I thought was crucially important for the proper management of the city's business. I reviewed all the applicants' resumes and sat in on all the interviews. Did the News do that? Had I still been on the council, I would have voted for Eberhardt, who was best qualified for the position based on her past experience as a village council member, city council member, and business operator in the city, and her long-time residence in the city and familiarity with the issues the city faces.

Does the News want to "get concerns out in the open," as Don Rush suggests? I've suggested more than once that the News institute a point-counterpoint discussion dealing with Cory Johnston's criticism, since the News itself doesn't seem to want to dig into the facts. No takers there.

In response to my criticisms of the News' coverage of city business last summer, Don Rush posed a series of questions to me, and I believe to Cory, on the city manager selection process and other city issues. I answered with five pages of detailed information, including some criticism of the manager selection process, that Don said would be run in July. Perhaps he lost it in the clutter on his desk. Or maybe he just forgot about it in the hurly-burly of stirring up controversy rather than reporting actual news. But now that the News wants to stir this pot again, perhaps it will pay attention to the facts.

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