The public’s right to know

We prevailed in our argument with the city of Medford over release of its severance package with ousted fire Chief Dave Bierwiler — well, at least we prevailed in the order issued  Monday by District Attorney Beth Heckert. She said the financial details of the severance package are public record and must be released. The city has seven days to follow her order or to notify her and us that they intend to pursue it in court.

I certainly hope they don’t push the issue further, because I can’t imagine what should be more public than the amount of money public agencies are paying to employees, former employees or anyone, for that matter. After all, that money is not theirs, it’s all of ours. Thus the word “public.”

The city  is fooling no one by claiming release of the figures would be a privacy violation. Bierwiler has said twice on the record that he has no problem with the figures being released. That suggests the only privacy the city is trying to protect is its own, perhaps because it’s uncomfortable in having to write a big check to a longtime employee who was abruptly let go for reasons that were never divulged.

Holding governments accountable on public records and public meetings issues is a core principle for us. We don’t always win and we don’t always make friends in the process. But there is no outside agency that monitors compliance on such matters. It usually takes a member of the public or a new organization to raise a hand and say,”Wait a minute.”

We did that in this case and it appears it will pay off in by notifying our city government that it needs to do the public’s business in public and not behind closed doors.


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