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Media Coverage
Clear The Air On Ouster
November 28, 1997


Friday, November 28, 1997
Section: Opinion
Page: A21
Column: Editorials 

It is unfortunate that last week's ouster of Richmond City Manager Floyd Johnson is still wrapped in speculation. Guesswork and innuendo can lead to the worst of conclusions about why the City Council voted him out. That's not a wholesome atmosphere in which to nurture public confidence in officials and their conduct. 

And this lingering murkiness is not fair to the public. If the people are to take an informed position on this issue, they need to know more details than have come out so far. 

The five council members who voted not to renew Johnson's contract when it runs out in January are Nat Bates, Tom Butt, Alex Evans, Richard Griffin and Donna Powers. They say they have been advised by acting City Attorney William Bonnell not to comment. The reason: Fear that Johnson will sue if his chances at another job are hurt by negative comments. 

The reasoning is curious. There's no comment more negative wordless though it may be than being voted out of a job. 

That fact will come out in future job interviews no matter what the council members say now to explain their vote. 

The "whys" won't do anything to soften or erase the hard reality. 

For the moment, the merits of the reasons or lack of them is not the issue. That will be debated later. But the public will be shut out of the debate as it was shut out of the post-midnight action by the council unless they have the facts. What went on in the closed-door meeting in a windowless room in the basement of City Hall after midnight a week ago Wednesday? 

Attorney Terry Francke, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, says city councils often clam up about sensitive personnel matters. Unfortunately, they have a right to do so. 

The Richmond City Council has no legal obligation to comment. 

And no taxpayer wants to widen the gate toward what City Clerk Eula Barnes has called Richmond's "significant exposure to litigation." 

The council may not legally "owe" the residents of Richmond an explanation, but it's hard to see how their exposure to litigation could be much worse than it is already. 

And in ostensibly saving Johnson's reputation, they are tarnishing Richmond's: middle-of-the-night meetings, possible violation of open meetings laws, charges of political maneuvering, outsider manipulation, and no more substantive information about the dismissal of the city manager than that he failed to satisfy the demands of individual council members. 

Absent any facts, what's a resident to think? 

It's time to put out some facts and put an end to these poisonous rumors. Richmond already has enough experience with industrial toxic releases without adding a political one.