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Published: Tuesday, 8/13/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Does secret government make us safer?

BY KEITH C. BURRIS
ASSOCIATE EDITOR OF THE BLADE

The Blade has acquired a copy of the city's gang map. What was the stonewalling and withholding all about in the end?

Do the people of this city have a right to know where the gangs are? Are they safer with information or without it?

Mayor Mike Bell, even today, calls the map an “investigative tool.”

That's malarkey. The map is a result of investigative tools. No one ever wanted to compromise police work.

The mayor is really saying that the less the public knows the better off they are. And that's a pretty outrageous thing to say. Vladimir Putin thinks that. No democratically elected chief executive in America is supposed to believe that.

But Mayor Bell is a big believer in secrecy, implicitly and explicitly. He thinks government and public administration work better in darkness than in light.

Where are the gangs? He can't tell us.

What's going on with the Chinese and development of the Marina District? Privileged information.

How about the water plant, which he rightly tells us has to be built? He'll inform us when we need to know.

The mayor likes to say that he's not afraid to make the tough calls. And he has a right to that brag.

But he does not usually want to tell us why he's made the calls he's made. And that's the other side of leadership. It is the necessary part of public office in an open society. And it's the essence of accountability.

Democratic accountability: It's the idea that, in a representative democracy, our leaders work for us. Not developers or campaign contributors. But voters

So when a mayor is asked “why did did you do that?” his response cannot be “how did you find out about it?” (a typical Bell administration response) but “well, let me tell you.”

Ask yourself how accountable a mayor already so committed to secrecy will be in a second, term-limited, term? How likely is he to hold an open house or town meeting? How often will he be available to the press? How often will he walk, or drive, or even be briefly seen in the neighborhoods?

Who will he spend time with and how will he make decisions?

This is not a newspaper issue. It's a democracy issue.

In the first mayoral debate, only one candidate, Joe McNamara, even raised the issue of the gang map. But in truth, police policy, not tactics but policy, should be roundly debated in a contest for mayor.

A federal judge has just ruled that New York's stop-and-frisk law is unconstitutional. The law is actually based on profiling.

As a former UT legal scholar put it, in place of probable cause, the policy employs two standards: Is this a high crime neighborhood? Is that young man likely to run from a police car?

The judge said that's an unreasonable standard for search and seizure. And, because it targets people who are poor and of color, it violates the Equal Protection Clause.

Toledoans have a right to hear from the mayor and the police chief. How is New York's practice different from Toledo's? What, if any, modifications in policy will be made here?

Let's hope someone asks the mayor this question and that he answers it.

This is not Russia. The mayor is accountable to the public.

Keith C. Burris is associate editor of The Blade.

Contact him at: kburris@theblade.com or 419-724-6266.



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