When your child asks you for a reason why you're not letting him do something, you have every right to say, "Because I said so." You don't need to provide a reason.
But as a public official whose duty it is to serve the citizens of your community, you've got an obligation to explain your decisions, especially decisions that are going to cost those people money.
Yet Rotterdam town officials have been deliberately evasive when asked to explain why the town denied petitions submitted by residents seeking a public referendum on the proposed Hamburg Street Sewer District project.
Neither Town Clerk Diana Marco nor any other town officials have said why the petitions were denied.
The residents have a legal right to petition for the referendum, and they have a right to know the town's justification for denying their petition.
First off, telling the residents the reason the petitions were denied is simply the respectful and right thing to do. If they failed to properly complete the forms with the proper names and addresses, or failed to secure enough signatures, or inappropriately included the signatures of people ineligible to sign it, then they should be told that.
If it turns out they didn't follow the law in submitting the petitions, then too bad for them. This issue has been on the table for years — plenty of time for the citizens to muster a proper and legal petition drive.
Releasing the exact reasons for the denial also protects the town from allegations that officials deliberately sabotaged the process because they wanted the sewer project to go through unchallenged by the residents of the district. If the town's justification is legitimate, disclosing it publicly will also head off any legal appeals the citizens might be considering.
On the other hand, not disclosing the reasons for the denial immediately raises legitimate suspicions about whether the denial of the petitions was valid. It brings into focus the town's actions and motivations for not allowing the petition to go forward. And it practically encourages litigation.
Look, we’re not fans of giving a handful of people the power to unilaterally kill a project that could potentially have long-term positive impacts on the entire town of Rotterdam. But the law allows citizens of special districts to demand a referendum, so they should be allowed to have one if they follow the application process correctly.
The bottom line here is that government has an obligation to act in the open by disclosing information about decisions that affect the citizens.
If the town had a legitimate reason for denying the petitions, as it very well might have, then it has no cause to keep the reasons a secret. The only reason the town would have for keeping the decision-making rationale from the public is if it did something wrong.
Unfortunately for those in power, the public has a right to know about that as well.
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