At the most recent Dearborn City Council meeting President Pro Tem Nancy Hubbard took an unconventional approach in offering condolences to the family of late former Topper restaurant owner Tony Koustas: She denigrated them.
After waxing poetic about the stately oak paneling and celebrity pictures that adorned the popular restaurant’s walls during Mr. Koustas’s management, she gave a scathing commentary on the decor his son, Dan, chose when he began to manage the business.
“He basically destroyed it,” she said in summation as she rolled her eyes.
At best, the comments were in poor taste, but as the second-highest-ranking member of council — and for that matter, a human being — Hubbard should have known better. And we still are trying to figure out how telling the son of a deceased father that he essentially ruined his dad’s life’s work conveys any sympathy.
Yet despite her flair for the wildly inappropriate, Hubbard was not the largest offender of the evening.
That distinction lies with city officials who ordered the removal of the backhanded condolence from the meeting’s rebroadcast currently airing on TV and available online. After concerns were raised by the council, the comments were put back in for the final six rebroadcasts of the meeting.
While we recognize the reasoning behind the edit – the comments were classless and have little bearing on public business – we wholeheartedly disagree with their removal for several reasons.
For starters, the methodical tenor of City Council meetings affords residents few opportunities to see how their elected representative conduct themselves outside the tedium of bureaucracy. Off-script comments such as Hubbard’s are few and far between, but they often provide the most telling glimpses into what an official is like outside their role on the council.
On another level, this ham-fisted act of censorship raises legitimate questions of political manipulation. With council elections just three months away, we hazard a guess that Hubbard’s mean-spirited comments probably would not play well with voters. The electorate should be privy to this, and no one in city government should be saving Hubbard from herself.
Consider this: If it was acceptable to hide officials’ embarrassing comments from the record, we could very well know Dan Quayle as “Mr. President” instead of the guy who couldn’t spell “potato.”
But most importantly, public records should never be subject to the whims of individuals. Editing the content of public proceedings is a direct blow to the concept of government transparency, and doing so sets a dangerous precedent. When it comes to what is part of the public record, the subject matter doesn’t matter, period. Good, bad or indifferent, the records are supposed to be all inclusive and content neutral. Let’s keep them that way.