OUR VIEW: Citizens deserve to know when being suedThe Daily Republic learned Thursday that the city of Mitchell is being sued by three former city employees who were fired from their jobs at Palace Transit.
By: Editorial board, The Daily Republic
The Daily Republic learned Thursday that the city of Mitchell is being sued by three former city employees who were fired from their jobs at Palace Transit.
Three men say they were fired for health-related reasons. In their individual lawsuits, they claim the city violated their rights under federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The three lawsuits were filed at various times between January and last month. As far as we know, nobody outside the plaintiffs, the lawyers and some city officials knew anything about the litigation until our story was printed on Page 1 of today’s edition.
It makes us wonder: Why should you, the citizens of Mitchell, have to rely upon this newspaper to find out and inform you that you are being sued? Don’t the mayor and the eight City Council members have an obligation, or at least the common courtesy, to mention such an important item to the people who elected them?
When these lawsuits were filed in federal court, the mayor and City Council should have announced it at one of their regularly scheduled public meetings. At the least, they should have given a brief summary of the complaints. All other matters concerning the litigation could be discussed in a closed session, because state law allows closed meetings for the discussion of pending litigation.
We’ll certainly take some lumps for our position on this issue. “There goes the paper again,” some will say, “whining about secrecy.” In response, we challenge you to come up with one good reason why your elected officials should not inform you of a matter of such importance.
We can think of many good reasons why the public should be informed, including:
It’s the city that’s being sued, not just the mayor and council. Since we the citizens are essentially co-defendants, we have a right to know.
The accusations made in the lawsuit open a window into City Hall that we as citizens should peer through. When our city officials are accused of wrongfully terminating employees — and when federal investigators find “reasonable cause” to believe city officials engaged in wrongful discrimination, as this litigation states — we as citizens have an obligation to find out what is going on at City Hall and whether our elected, appointed and hired employees are representing us in the way we desire.
Finally, we as taxpayers stand to lose if the plaintiffs in this case are awarded money through a settlement or judgment. We suspect the city’s insurance would pay, but that’s not guaranteed. If insurance does cover any payouts, the city’s future rates for coverage could be affected. And those rates are ultimately paid by us, the taxpayers.
We know we’re ranting about this, but we’re fed up with the widespread presumption among government officials that every bit of potentially controversial information should be kept secret until somebody can pry it loose. We expect better, especially from our locally elected leaders.
Yet today we’re left to wonder: Just when were city officials planning to tell you and us, the citizens of Mitchell, that we’re being sued? We fear the answer is never, or only if the city wins at trial.