Questions and answers

More and more, public officials at all levels are adopting the opinion that people are either for them or against them. The corollary to that, in their minds, is that if you’re against them, you must be not just wrong, but mean-spirited.

Even asking questions about what they do and expecting answers is taken as proof one must be against them and thus, malicious.

You can see the predicament in which those of us in the press find ourselves. We ask questions. We want answers because we know many of you want to know the answers, too. That’s why we ask the questions.

Earlier this month, we asked Wheeling city officials some questions about the appointment of Melinda Koslik to fill a vacancy on City Council. She represents the Third Ward.

After the meeting during which council approved Koslik’s appointment, our reporter asked about a report we’d heard that Koslik is in a relationship with city Parks and Recreation Director Jesse Mestrovic. She is, we were told, but the matter was discussed with the municipal legal department and Koslik has agreed to abstain from discussions and votes that might involve conflicts of interest.

Later, we also asked for the names of others who had applied to fill the council vacancy. The decision had been made not to reveal them, to spare them any embarrassment, we were told. We’ve filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the names and received them.

You can see why we asked those questions, I trust.

First, of course, people are suspicious of any hint of conflicts of interest involving government officials.

Second, names of applicants for the Third Ward job were not released in advance. Very few people even knew who was under consideration or had opportunities to express their preferences. Contrast that with how state officials handle vacancies on circuit courts and the state Supreme Court, we wrote in an editorial. Names of applicants are revealed in advance. Public opinion is a factor in which ones are selected.

Wheeling Mayor Glenn Elliott disagrees with us, as he explained in a letter to the editor we published Wednesday.

He compared the process of appointing Koslik with that of hiring a new city clerk. Applicants’ names were not revealed then, Elliott pointed out.

No, they weren’t. But city clerks are not elected. They do not represent specific neighborhoods where residents may want input in the process. And they carry out policy. They don’t make it.

Revealing names of council applicants might embarrass some, the mayor pointed out. Perhaps so, but if one seeks the trust of one’s neighbors, as city council members do, one ought to be willing for them to know your name. Candidates in elections, the normal method for picking council members, put their names out for voters’ consideration. Most lose, by the way. That probably embarrasses them.

Those are considerations about which reasonable minds can differ, as the mayor pointed out in his letter.

Then he moved on to state one reason the names were withheld was “a desire for decency.” Draw your own conclusion concerning his implication about our request for the names.

Elliott added that he has “no doubt that Ms. Koslik’s performance as Ward 3 Councilor will make clear that the skepticism the newspaper has twice now directed towards her appointment is misplaced.”

There has been no skepticism directed toward Koslik by the newspapers. It is our sincere hope she does well as a council member.

We have been no more skeptical, in fact, than voters who, called upon to select public officials, want enough information to make wise choices — then, once winners have taken office, want to know in advance about important pending decisions, so they can provide input.

In a sense, that means we are “against” many people in government — because we think the public ought to be informed and included.

If that makes us offensive … well, so be it.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

COMMENTS