Last night, I left the considerable comforts of home and headed down to City Hall to speak in favor of the permanent appointment of Acting Chief Pat McMahon. Before I went, I was well aware of the long process and fierce loyalties of the pro-McMahon and anti-McMahon camps. I work with - and hold in esteem - people on both sides of this issue, and it was clear that the debate would be contentious. Believe me, I gave strong consideration to the option of just staying home.
Instead I went to the meeting and listened as leaders from all over the community stood and spoke in McMahon’s favor. They were from youth programs, from neighborhood groups, and from the business community. Some were the usual suspects, and some were less familiar. It was clear from the testimony that the Acting Chief has made civic engagement his priority. My own comment to the Council was that McMahon has brought community policing to a new level in Middletown, and he’s been a solid team member in efforts to move the city forward.
But I also noted that the Council has a lot of information to consider when they decide whether to confirm a Mayor’s choice. It was my job as an involved citizen to speak up with my opinion - but that doesn’t mean it is the only perspective that matters.
In other words, I can’t join the cries of “Foul Play” in the decision they made last night, even though I don’t agree with it. Our messy system of checks and balances in government allows the Common Council to stonewall a Mayor’s choice for Police Chief. If I thought a Mayor was trying to push through an old crony for the job, I’d be glad if the Council gave a “no” vote. Last night, I thought it was a shame, because in my view, the Acting Chief has been doing a credible job. But in either case, I’d be aware that I’m NOT a council person, I don’t have their responsibilities or access. I don’t know why they voted against McMahon’s appointment, but I accept that they may have their reasons beyond “it was fixed.”
The system of “Mayor appoints, Council confirms” is nothing new, and it’s not always a mannerly process. Sometimes - not always - the Council is cooperative . But with the current state of politics in Middletown, I doubt if people from the two parties would even press the walk light button for each other. That stinks. But it doesn’t mean that it “STINKS”, if you know what I mean.
I’ve been at city meetings when I’ve seen the Council pivot on a dime and reverse a decision of the caucus because of focused community opposition and public testimony. I’ve also seen them stick to decisions obviously made before the meeting began.
In the long run, we voters have to decide whether these people we’ve elected are keeping the best interests of the community at heart, or whether we need to seek new representation.
If this experience leaves you in the second category, then I’d like to suggest you join Ed McKeon, our elected leaders, and the handful of gadflys at the next dozen or so Common Council meetings. While you’re sitting there, you’ll get a much clearer picture of which council members -- if any -- deserve your support.
Or maybe you’ll decide that you’re willing to put your reputation and free time on the line, and run for office yourself. I, for one, would welcome more choices on the ballot.
Perhaps our elected officials made the wrong decision. But I can’t be sorry that we have a process that forces the Mayor and the Common Council to agree on a position as important as Police Chief.