Column

Styf: Cary special meeting was an entertaining waste

Sometimes it feels as if government is a waste.

On Tuesday night in Cary, there was no doubt.

A week after the village canceled its monthly meeting because of a lack of agenda items, several Cary trustees teamed up to call a meeting to respond to a Northwest Herald report.

They were upset, you see, that a harassment investigation report that the village spent almost $5,000 to conduct had become public after many officials had tried their best to hide it. So they decided to put on a show under the guise of discussing an absurdly worded resolution denouncing the report.

If you missed the meeting, here’s a taste.

Trustee Jim Cosler apparently had been mispronouncing Trustee Ellen McAlpine’s name during meetings over a long period of time. She thinks it was on purpose, and he claims it was dialect.

McAlpine felt the mispronounced name, combined with both direct comments and online posts, were harassment. She complained to village officials, who discussed the matter with the village attorney and then hired a separate firm to investigate.

Later, trustees admitted the basis of the investigation – violating the village’s harassment policy – was faulty, since it didn’t apply to Cosler as a trustee. So the whole thing was a waste, and Cosler felt it was unfair.

We requested the report via the Freedom of Information Act, and that request was denied based on some pretty flimsy, illogical reasoning.

It ranged from claiming that the report was internal communications with an attorney “compiled with respect to an internal audit,” to it being a record “created in the course of administrative enforcement proceedings and for law enforcement purposes,” to it being “preliminary drafts, notes, recommendations or [memorandums] in which opinions are expressed or policies or actions are formulated.” Officials even claimed it would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Clearly, none of those FOIA exemptions actually apply to the report, paid for with public money, about public officials and their actions in public space. But we didn’t have to wait out winning that FOIA appeal, as we got the report anyway and published it like the public document it is.

That led to Tuesday’s meeting, which the mayor clearly never wanted to have in the first place, and then got out of hand.

There were arguments about the board’s seating chart, an odd non-apology apology from McAlpine’s husband to Cosler, questioning of the Cary police chief, an audience member muttering about snitches, some heated back-and-forth between several members of the audience and trustees and, ultimately, a vote for an oddly worded resolution that did nothing for anyone except show that four trustees were upset the harassment report ever was created.

At one point, Trustee Jennifer Weinhammer even got heated with a section of the audience as it laughed about the absurdity of the seating chart debate. As McAlpine pointed out, the meeting seemed unnecessary and cost the village and its residents more than $1,000.

We know trustees make $100 a meeting, but when the village attorney, camera operator and others are factored in, she’s probably correct. All for nothing, all from a group that not too long ago claimed to be advocates for transparency when they rejected a $60,000 donation from a Cary couple based on transparency.

• Northwest Herald Editor Jon Styf can be reached at jstyf@shawmedia.com or 815-526-4630.

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