Mike Creger: Why is your city so secretive?Did you know that no one at Two Harbors City Hall can tell you if the city has insurance to cover a fireworks disaster? Say a mortar slips and goes off into the crowd, killing someone. Is the city covered?
Did you know that no one at Two Harbors City Hall can tell you if the city has insurance to cover a fireworks disaster? Say a mortar slips and goes off into the crowd, killing someone. Is the city covered?
Who knows? City council members don’t. City administration isn’t saying.
This all started with the abrupt end of the July 4 fireworks show at Agate Bay. At first, no one wanted to talk about what happened — not the city, not the regional representative from the fireworks company or its owner.
City Administrator Lee Klein, more than a week later, finally reported to the city council that something went wrong. The “new” shooter shot off all the fireworks at the same time.
Klein said he had spoken with the regional representative for Premier Pyrotechnics, a guy who still isn’t returning our calls. Klein told the council that Premier offered the city a $1,000 discount off next year’s fireworks to make up for the truncated show.
We ran a story on this and it got us and our readers thinking. Why not an immediate rebate? Why was the city catering to what the company at fault wanted? Where’s the contract? Didn’t we pay $4,000 for a full fireworks show? Isn’t this our tax money in play?
All good questions.
If you want data from city hall, you have to fill out an official data request. If you go to the counter there and ask what color the sky is, you get a piece of paper and little assurance on when there might be an answer.
The city has every right to make people fill out the form under state data practices law. What I can’t understand is why the city seems so secretive about even the simplest of information. State law says the city needs to respond in a “reasonable” amount of time to requests. In this case, “reasonable” should have been a five-minute check of the file, not what became a seven-day ordeal.
My request for the fireworks contract was simple. It was approved by the council and was obviously public information.
To say it’s difficult to get basic information — to have what I’d call a normal newspaper-city relationship with Klein — is a gross understatement. Everything must go through him and he, in turn, shoves things off to legal. After that, good luck.
Council members have privately said they are concerned about Klein’s relationship with the public, since a good portion of his job is keeping an open and direct relationship with residents. I applaud council members for realizing that a good relationship with the local newspaper is part of that process. I’m not so sure about how they’ve conveyed their concerns to Klein or if they have at all. Council members are, after all, responsible for his yearly performance review.
Nearly a week after my request, and after phone calls and cajoling, I finally got the fireworks contract.
It’s an alarming one-pager that offers no information about liability. It’s a “contract for service,” and only details that Premier will deliver fireworks to Two Harbors and perform a display under state and federal regulations.
That’s it. Oh, and the council signed off on a three-year contract with no way out of it, unless Premier doesn’t deliver what it considers $4,000 worth of a fireworks display.
I called Premier’s Missouri office and I was told not so politely to call that elusive regional rep. They weren’t talking, even though I was simply asking, in general, “what happens if something happens?” I said their man in Minnesota wasn’t talking and they gave me the owner’s number. I left him a nice message and a warning about how some people are answering the phone at the office. He didn’t call back.
Now, wondering if the city is open to some liability, I called Klein and then city attorney Steve Overom and left messages. I asked a council member who wasn’t sure if the fireworks fell under the overall city event insurance or not. If it did, wouldn’t you have to draw something extra up specifically mentioning Premier? And what about these “shooters” who come from, well, who knows? Does the city make sure they are licensed? Who checks?
Now, I’m sure there are simple answers to all of these questions. And they may come as a reaction to this column. But Klein nor Overom have responded for nearly three weeks now.
Same thing on questions we had about that malfunctioning siren this week.
All we can do is keep on asking questions under the hope the city will adhere to a contract with the public for open and fair engagement. We’ve also requested a sit-down with Klein and the mayor to work through any misaligned expectations.
There remains nothing but dead silence from a city administration that is supposed to serve the public. Are you OK with this?
If not, light a firework for open government by calling city hall (834-5631) or expressing yourself on this page.
Mike is the editor of the News-Chronicle. He can be reached at 834-2141. He promises to talk with you if you call. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org