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Restore openness to city’s 150th birthday celebration

Johnson City Press • Dec 20, 2018 at 12:00 AM

Ever been late to your own party?

Johnson City certainly has been when it comes to celebrating the city’s 150th birthday.

We already feared city leaders were behind the curve when they waited until Feb. 15 to finalize a blue-ribbon committee to plan and manage the yearlong celebration set for 2019.

Oddly, no city staff members or city commissioners were directly included, and city leaders largely had stayed distanced from the process until last week when a coup took place seemingly outside the public’s view.

In a Dec. 13 email to Sesquicentennial Commission members, newly appointed Mayor Jenny Brock shook things up with a new direction for the process, including new members, new leadership, suggestions for three new committees and a new plan for the kickoff event set for just a few weeks away.

“Getting into this new phase, we saw some areas where we could reorganize the focus of some of the members and carry out and deliver things created during the planning process,” Brock told Press News Editor Nathan Baker that same day. “We’re in a place where things need to happen and they need to happen in a faster time frame. If we link with the commission now, we can make things happen.”

In her email, Brock essentially installed herself as the panel’s new leader — facilitator and liaison to the City Commission — while relegating Sesquicentennial Chairwoman Rebecca Henderson to “adviser.” Such sweeping changes took Henderson and some other Sesquicentennial Commission members by surprise.

Understandably so. When the City Commission appointed the Sesquicentennial Commission, a resolution clearly outlined the group’s duties, including instruction to “properly plan and coordinate” events, election of its own chairman and vice chairman and the appointment of committees that could involve other citizens.

At no time has the City Commission voted to withdraw or modify that resolution — at least in public.

In her email, Brock stated she was writing on behalf of the City Commission and regularly used the word “we” when referencing who was making the changes.

When asked about that “we,” Brock said while city commissioners had discussed a need for change in the 150th effort in a recent agenda review session, she actually had acted alone in making the changes and recommendations.

While it’s refreshing to see Brock, her fellow commissioners and the city’s staff finally taking a more active role in the celebration, they should remember two things: The City Commission only acts as a whole, and the public’s business must be done in public.

Brock later acknowledged to the Press that she may have overstepped. We have no doubt, though, she acted with the city’s best interests in mind. We agree that a more aggressive approach is necessary in making the 150th birthday a success. Brock’s plan — particularly the proposed additions of a few key members in civic positions — would inject some overdue oomph into the process.

In the end, none of this should detract from the celebration or the fine work already completed by the Sesquicentennial Commission. The 150th birthday (Dec. 1, 2019) is a milestone in our history that must be observed properly and joyously.

It should also be planned openly.

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