Tsichlis urges Crestwood citizens to question city officials

‘Another View’ from Crestwood Board of Aldermen President Mike Tsichlis

Tsichlis urges Crestwood citizens to question city officials

By Mike Tsichlis

In nearly two years of service as a Crestwood alderman, most recently as board president, I never thought I would be compelled to write the following commentary, but the systematic marginalization of citizens and employees who have tried to hold the city accountable for its decisions have left me with no choice.

After hearing an alderman explain his recent vote to abstain on an important issue because he feared retaliation, and after reading an email from a board colleague who is a self-professed “champion” of the city administrator and who referred to citizens who question the city’s approach to matters as a “distraction” who “certainly take the joy out of service away from me on many Tuesday nights,” I concluded that the city is taking a wrong turn in its authority to govern.

In a healthy democracy, no elected official should fear retaliation for a vote, and no elected official should cede deliberative objectivity in favor of “getting with the team,” as one of our colleagues dared to admonish us.

But what exactly does “getting with the team” mean, and whose team? It’s been my observation that “team unity” as is implied here is realized only when we unquestioningly support the goals and initiatives of the mayor and city administrator.

I have noticed that during consideration of important votes, where one would expect probing questions and healthy debate, it appears that some of my colleagues, perhaps the majority, come to the table with predetermined minds, and where information gleaned from discussion makes no difference in the outcome. One gets the sense that there is a “meeting before the meeting” where team conformity is decided.

I contend that such a “groupthink” approach shortchanges our constituents, who expect a more in-depth analysis of the issues from the officials they elect.

Make no mistake, as petty as this may seem for a city of less than 5,500 households, it is all about power. As it stands, I believe we have now what may be characterized as a small-time political machine, made up of a network of people inside the city administration as well as a majority of elected officials who are willing to cede their authority as representatives of their wards to vote in lockstep with a majority.

An unfortunate casualty in this unquestioning, “rubber-stamp” approach to city policy making is that it encourages the city administration to do what it wants with little regard for accountability.

This is why it is so important to support greater government transparency, which members of the “team” on the board failed to do by voting against posting the city’s legal bills on its website.

This is a simple process that would allow the public to see more clearly what goes on behind the scenes in their government. For the administration, transparency can be pesky; raising questions that officials would rather not answer.

Citizens who demand transparency and accountability from their government should be applauded for their courage, engagement and willingness to prompt city officials to think about the consequences of their actions. It’s called democracy.

There is much going on in our city today that is positive, not least of which is the prospect of a fresh proposal to develop the mall property, which is all the more reason to closely watch what transpires at City Hall.

I plan to continue to question the “team” at City Hall as the need may arise, and encourage all Crestwood citizens to do the same in this new year with a view to greater accountability, common sense and transparency.