Serving in public office is far more than an ego boost. It’s a big responsibility, both to the voters and to the future of the community. Getting up to speed – on documents, budgets and personnel – is a major challenge, but it’s one that we expect officials to meet.
Is there a learning curve? Of course. Is that an excuse for not knowing basic information – or what questions to ask? It shouldn’t be.
The Derry Town Council has been offering up a great example of being unprepared. They’ve gone into nonpublic session to find out what the unpaid, volunteer Town Historian does – when the information is available from the Heritage Commission and from the historian himself, is on the Town website and is public knowledge.
And they’ve questioned plans for the Route 28 South sewer and water projects when those are part of the Master Plan. Of course, reading the Master Plan may not be the easiest or most pleasant thing to do, but it’s part of the job.
But Derry is far from the only place where ignorance is not bliss. In Londonderry. the recently completed Master Plan update, which describes major changes for the area that includes the Town Common, seemed to come as a surprise last week.
It all comes down to a question of accepting responsibility. For example, the Town Council – or Board of Selectmen or School Board – approves union contracts. So it makes no sense to say either (1) we have no control over that portion of the budget, a frequent comment of school boards, or (2) the unions are at fault.
Same thing with the Master Plan – it’s voted on by the Town Council. Should we assume they didn’t read it before they voted? You could get that impression about the PUD – Planned Unit Development – in Londonderry that made possible the proposed Woodmont Commons.
We have a suggestion. As a letter in this week’s edition points out, our newspapers work. Put an article in the paper and people read it and respond.
So if it’s too much to ask elected officials to do their homework with original sources, maybe they could start reading this newspaper. We’ve covered the Master Plan process. We’ve covered the Derry Town Historian. We’ve covered the PUD.
We may write about things officials wish could remain under the carpet or behind closed doors, but that’s not the nature of a community newspaper – or a transparent government. We print what people have the right to know. And we expect public officials to stop making excuses and know what they’re doing.