The public, press and, at least one politician in East Hampton have had a lot to say since Patch reported on the grievance filed by the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, Local 524, with the State Board of Labor Relations.
Interestingly, however, the recent reaction and commentary isn’t about the complaint itself. Rather, the fuss has focused on a document that was referenced in the Patch about the complaint, and the public disclosure of the document.
That document - prepared by former Acting Interim Town Manager Anne McKinney - is a list of 15 concerns she had with Police Chief Matt Reimondo and the police department in general. It was the culmination of information gathered based on interviews with department employees.
Some news outlets have called it a performance evaluation, conjuring up images of that often-dreaded annual review most of us probably get. But it isn’t.
The memorandum, one of two McKinney intended to give the Chief on Nov. 2 following up on their conversation on Nov. 1, leads off with her saying in the first graph: “Many of these concerns are quite serious but before I decide what action to take, if any, I want to provide you with notice of these concerns and an opportunity to respond to them.”
In other words, before making any evaluation, McKinney first wanted the Chief’s feedback.
The second memo stated McKinney wanted a decision by the Chief on the Sgt. Michael Green investigations and the one into Officer Hardie Burgin no later than that Friday (Nov. 4), the same deadline as the other memo. Reimondo hasn’t had the opportunity to respond because he left on medical leave the same day the memos were prepared. The Chief was back on Monday.
Instead of focusing on McKinney’s concerns, Town Council Chair Sue Weintraub said she wants an investigation into how the memo listing McKinney’s concerns was made public, according to an article last week in The Hartford Courant. The article went on to say Weintraub believed the memo to be confidential personnel information.
That’s a pretty broad interpretation of “personnel information.” The memo is clearly about Reimondo, but it is not an invasion of personal privacy and the information does pertain to legitimate matters of public concern, and some the public might care less about. The memo also is clearly about workplace issues and their impact on the department’s performance. Not every document is confidential just because it concerns town personnel. Though one person manages the department, people are responsible for everything that occurs in every town department and the public schools. Does that mean all activity and every decision is shrouded in secrecy? How would the public assess the performance of its town officials if this was the case?
The documents do not appear to be subject to Freedom of Information exemptions. Others may - and most likely do - feel differently, but the focus on the police department, its leadership and the role of public safety would seem to eliminate any argument that the information is simply one person’s performance evaluation, annual or otherwise. The memo contains information the residents of East Hampton have a right to know and if there was to be stricter, self-imposed guidelines by the town concerning the release of such information, town employees would only be burdened by FOI requests that in most cases would ultimately gain the release of the requested document.
The law on public documents aside, there’s a bigger issue here. The Chatham Party, which won control of the council in the Nov. 8 election, promised during the campaign to make fiscally sound decisions and manage taxpayer money wisely.
Moreover, as part of its mission, the Chatham Party says it wants to support full and open communication and documentation of all government activities.
Then there’s this comment on the party’s web site: “It's time to stop fighting and get things done for the good of the town. Chatham Party candidates will work together to build inter-board cooperation and move projects forward.”
The voters empowered the Chatham Party to make good on its promises and carry through its mission. It’s therefore inconsistent to suddenly want to spend time and effort trying to figure out how a document became public and spending dollars on lawyers to help its hunt, or to characterize McKinney’s release of the memo as a desperate move by Reimondo’s foes, regardless of whether that is true.
The Chatham Party needs to rise above the politics as usual and put community first, as they said would happen if elected. If this is an indication of the direction it intends to pursue, the Party runs the risk of having its credibility slip away early in its reign over the town council, denying the residents of East Hampton the leadership it needs to manage finances, unite the town and maintain the quality of life people here enjoy.