No one knows for sure what goes on behind closed doors at Santa Rosa City Hall. And that's precisely the problem. There are too many closed-door meetings — as well as secret investigations, heated confrontations and undisclosed emails. And little of it serves the public's interests.
Given recent hostilities, the latest developments should come as no surprise.
As Staff Writer Kevin McCallum reported this week, Mayor Scott Bartley has filed a complaint against City Councilman Gary Wysocky accusing him of creating a hostile work environment at City Hall.
The complaint stemmed from an argument between City Attorney Caroline Fowler and Wysocky on Oct. 29, four days after Fowler sent a directive to council members saying it was "critical" that they not comment on the shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez.
Wysocky objected to the directive as well as a decision made on Oct. 28 to close City Hall at noon the following day, when a protest march was scheduled to begin at Courthouse Square.
Wysocky had reason to be critical to both of these actions, one of which muzzled council members at a time that demanded leadership, not silence. The other — given the plan was to go ahead with council-related meetings inside a closed City Hall — would have locked out the public altogether.
When Wysocky arrived at City Hall the next day for a subcommittee meeting, he learned that the mayor, city manager and other senior staff had conferred and decided to cancel all meetings, close City Hall and send employees home at noon due to "hostile postings" on social media. What those postings were remains a mystery.
Just before noon, Fowler also sent an email to the council blaming the cancellations on "the irresponsible actions of certain persons who have now endangered our city employees."
Who those "persons" were, what their actions were and how employees were endangered also remain a mystery.
But what is known is that around that time Wysocky met with Fowler in a conference room in the city manager's office and a heated exchange occurred, one that was loud enough to be heard by those outside of the room.
Bartley, who apparently heard the argument, said at Tuesday night's meeting that it was his obligation to file the complaint in order to uphold the city's "zero-tolerance" harassment policy. Wysocky, meanwhile, called it a "Kafkaesque investigation at taxpayers' expense " and said the complaint had no merit.
Given all that's unknown — about secret emails, hostile postings and behind-closed-door arguments — we don't know whether there are grounds for a hostile work environment complaint or not. But it's clear that all of this is creating an environment that's hostile to any productive work being done at City Hall.
We're no longer just concerned about a culture of secrecy at City Hall. We're worried about a broadening culture of dysfunction. This has to come to an end.
Here's hoping the mayor's plans for a task force on open government will be a step in that direction.