2013-12-19 / Opinion

Yes, Tone Does Matter

When the City Council next meets in January, we hope that they start the new year off on a positive note. What transpired last week on the dais was this council’s low point, as Councilor Michael T. Farley, an attorney by trade, once again took aim at the city manager and his fellow councilors for failing to adequately address an issue that he had brought to the fore.

Except the council did take action. And to most, it would have appeared that they were following Farley’s lead.

It’s no secret that Farley has been frustrated by the city administration and has made public statements indicating that he has little correspondence with the other members of the council. But that’s no excuse for his actions.

A few weeks ago, we implored all members of the council not to ignore an issue simply because of personality conflicts.

So it was heartening last week to see the whole of the council get behind a proposal to take a harder stance over a debt owed to the city by the operators of the Clarke School Apartments – an issue that Farley had spearheaded for the better part of the last four months.

It appeared as though it were a victory. Except, that is, to Farley.

Rather than using the opportunity to applaud his fellow councilors and the city staff for responding to the issue in a way that didn't simply kick the can down the road, Farley complained that the staff hadn’t done enough to recoup roughly $1.8 million owed to the city’s Community Development Block Grant program from Clarke School Limited Partners.

Both City Manager Jane Howington and City Solicitor Joe Nicholson acknowledged that they had hoped to come to an agreement with the property owners prior to the loan default date of Dec. 12. However, as Nicholson explained, all options – including foreclosure – still remain on the table.

That’s exactly what Farley had asked for in September when he first raised questions about the loan and the city’s intention to collect.

It should also be noted that unlike conventional loan agreements, the mortgage that the city has on the Clarke School Apartments is a non-recourse note, meaning that the most viable path toward recouping the loan would come through an asset seizure – in this case, the building itself.

“It’s complicated,” Nicholson said after Wednesday’s meeting.

Since being sworn into office last January, Farley has become increasingly intent on seeking out savings for taxpayers, and he has raised some very valid concerns. But in the process, he’s also alienated his fellow councilors and publicly berated city staff. His outburst at the last council meeting was the worst offense yet.

He may say that tone, or diction, shouldn’t matter. In politics, however, it very much does.

As a public, we rightly should hold our elected officials to a higher standard than most – especially when it comes to their behavior in public.

Civility is sorely lacking in our national town square. It needn’t be absent here as well. If there are issues related to the performance of the city manager, then they should be addressed. But frustration with a bureaucracy is no excuse for belligerence. And that is exactly what was on display last week.

If Councilor Farley wants to continue in his quest on behalf of taxpayers, then he should come to recognize when a win is a win, and begin to focus more on developing policies and a lot less on prosecuting his colleagues.

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