OPINION / Al Alborn: “Secret Government” … in our local government .. a letter to Marty Nohe
by Al Alborn
The Alborn Foundation
I sit here this morning with my morning coffee wondering how the following very simple question could have evolved into such a very public showdown over Government transparency… or perhaps secrecy.
From: Alan Alborn
Sent: Saturday, October 13, 2012 09:08 AM Eastern Standard Time
To: Nohe, Marty E.
Subject: New policy chief?
Welcome back from Taiwan.
Rumor has it that a committee has been formed to select our next Police Chief. I haven’t seen any announcement. Who is in the committee?
I know a lot about “secrets”. I kept them for a living most of my adult life. As both Government and I matured together over the years, we both came to understand that over classification is as much a threat to the republic as under classification. Making arbitrary, capricious, or unreasonable decisions about what the public should know and when violates the simple principle that Government works for us, not visa versa.
The greatest abuse of “keeping secrets” is to protect bad behavior.
The best defense against a Government that works to protect the institution instead of serve the people is to not keep many secrets.
I am wondering if Prince William County has, over the years, evolved into a model of Governance that values protecting the Institution of Government more than it values serving the public?
This issue is a “tipping point” for me.
I have defended Prince William County Government in spite of what I have observed as its many abuses for a long time. I’ve watched those hired to serve create a system to make it easy for elected officials to dip into our money to finance campaigns, pay for personal amusements and hobbies, pay for personal and family aggrandisement, even finance Christmas Shows and perhaps pay for preferred seating and treatment at public facilities.
I’ve watched the carry-over fund process unfold as County level discretionary funds used to subvert the formal budget process. I’ve witnessed the creation of reserve funds to channel even more carry-over funds to Supervisors for their use in maintaining power by their name on our tax dollars. I am currently digging into the details of the Prince William County budget and not particularly liking what I find.
Of late, I’ve observed behavior that High School seniors would be ashamed of as elected officials and staff engage in petty retribution for offenses real or imagined
I think I’ve had enough.
My resolve to defend Prince William County Government is weakening. I leave this episode with the uncomfortable feeling that perhaps there are many other simple questions that we should be asking. I wonder what other “secrets” are being kept.
We have perhaps the finest Police Department in the Country. I am proud to be a graduate of the Citizens Police Academy and have worked hard to keep them as the top of our Strategic Priority list as a member of the last strategic planning team as well as the current one. We owe them the best leadership available,
I suggest that the “best leadership available” include a candidate with absolutely no local obligations or baggage, and a fresh set of eyes.
Hiring a Chief Executive for any organization is a rare opportunity that only presents itself every few years, or even Decades. To hire from within ensures that innovative thinking, fresh ideas, best practices from another successful organization, are dismissed as a criteria.
To hire from within locks the practices of the past into the policies of the future. Old debts, obligations, and relationships with elected officials are simply perpetuated. Things that could be improved with a critical review by a fresh set of eyes are not.
To hire within protects “secrets”.
Chief Charlie Dean has done an outstanding job guiding the Prince William County Police Department to its preeminent position in Virginia and the United States. He has made a lot of very good decisions over the years.
That being said, the opportunity to chose his replacement should not be seen as a chance to perpetuate a Department exactly as Chief Dean left it. Prince William County should use this opportunity to take the Department to the next level. We need to due a true National Search for the very best candidate available.
There are too many secrets in Prince William County. Replacing Chief Executives with people who are vested in keeping secrets is a mistake. Selecting from within perpetuates the way things have always been. It keeps old obligations, relationships, deals, and a few “bodies” in play.
We deserve better.
Since we pay for absolutely every stick of furniture, every plant, every wide screen on the wall, and every minute of any public servant’s time spent on Prince William County business, we deserve to know how our money is being spent.
What we don’t deserve is “secrets”.
I’m wondering how much that FOIA response cost me? I’m wondering how much keeping secrets is costing me? Among other things, it’s expensive to keep secrets…
and we get the bill.
This is my opinion based upon the facts that I have found. Alternate opinions welcome. I’m always available to join anyone over a cup of coffee who wishes to learn more. My office is the Starbucks at the corner of the Prince William Parkway and Hoadly Road in Prince William County, Virginia.
For a decent conversation, I’ll buy.
by Al Alborn
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