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Transparent or opaque?

One role of the press in a free and democratic society is to ensure that government, be it at the local or national level, remain accountable to the people it serves. In the pursuit of this mission, the Eagle Bulletin informs itself on local matters and asks questions when something seems confusing or irregular.

In carrying out this mission, the Eagle Bulletin recently queried Manlius Mayor Mark-Paul Serafin regarding the circumstances surrounding the village clerk position. The village had hired a consultant to assist and train the village clerk for a total of 305 hours pending or approved at the rate of $50 an hour, or a total cost to village taxpayers of $15,250, and is expected to be retained for additional hours beyond that. An irregularity in the approval process for these hours aroused further interest.

The degree to which training and assistance are necessary led the Eagle to question whether a competitive hiring process was used to ensure the most qualified person was hired. When questioned, the mayor's responses were non-existent at first, then evasive and defensive. They boiled down to "I have the utmost confidence in [the village clerk and consultant]," "I don't feel it is necessary to justify the hiring of Lisa Devona one year later," along with a lengthy diatribe enumerating the offenses of a board member the mayor thinks was the reason for the inquiries.

Fair enough, but the matter of the hiring of the village clerk has still not been addressed. When invited to write the column also published in this edition, the mayor did explain that the necessity of the consultant was due to the sudden departure of the previous village clerk and the fact that the village clerk is performing duties that were previously performed by three people.

While we may know the reasoning behind the consultant's hiring, we have yet to hear a response as to why the village still needs to spend resources on training a year later. It's a fair question -- one that has been raised both publicly at board meetings and in conversations and e-mails between reporter and source. It deserves to be answered.

While it may not please him, the mayor doesn't get to pick and choose the questions the media or other board members ask.

Government transparency is not an issue to take lightly. In the end, it doesn't matter if the administrator feels the subject is worth little or no press; what matters is that the public obtains what they rightfully seek -- answers.

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