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With CPS playing defense, should a misleading guard become news?

Greg Harman
gharman@sacurrent.com

What happened to our new era of transparent government? Obama’s been in office months now and I still can’t see through the polyester-nylon weave of local burrocrats and into to their rolls of loveliness and anti-fungal-scented briefs.

Obama’s Sudsy Summit is in the rearview, yet open dialogue is still in danger.

What gives? I want my Change back.

The Food and Drug Administration has open government firmly in hand with a certified Transparency Task Force on the march.

Problem is: one proposal would so strictly track interactions between reporters and staff that I have heard others in open-gov work crying censorship.

I’ve been experiencing my own little transparency problem here in San Antonio. After a week of CPS Energy’s CEO shrugging off questions of pay and job performance, Milton Lee’s No. 2 Steve Bartley gave me the same treatment.

Disappointing, since Bartley had offered to be the anti-Milton: smiling, open, and (apparently) honest.

I wanted to know about the memo Co-GM Bartley had sent to staff about pay freezes and possible furloughs in the future.

No response.

I called back.

The press officer said Steve would want to know what “specific questions” I had. I ran down a few for her, adding that I wanted to know if CPS management would consider cutting their own pay to help set an example.

Two more days of silence have followed.

In light of this defensive posturing, what to make of a CPS Energy guard caught telling members of the public and press that Wednesday’s board meeting, scheduled for 2:30 pm,  wasn’t happening until 3:30 or later? Turned out the board and staff attendees were already ensconced safely two doors behind him.

Probably nothing, right?

While the board voted to cut Lee’s incentive pay by $35,000 (a pittance), CPS is framing it as a proactive motion on Lee’s part. That he, in fact, volunteered the cut. Then again, last CPS press release I took at face value said that Lee had resigned. Look where that got us!

Until I can suss out this mess I’m recommended both Lee and Bartley attend mandatory public-relations boot camp. Open government is not about sharing information when it suits you, or talking to the press when you enjoy the coverage you receive.

And, IMHO, it’s worth considering that when a leadership attempts to shut out its critics, even the most critical of critics, those critics are left little choice but to become even more violently entrenched as opponents. Of course, we’re all bigger than such petty reactions that here at the Current.

We were pretty excited to start writing semi-positive copy about the utility in recent months. It’d be nice to do so again some day. Even if that story is about a bleeding headless beast growling in the street for more solar panels…


Posted by gharman on 7/31/2009 5:31:43 PM
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