February 24, 2022

Fake Leadership

By: P.A.G.E. Co-founder Lydia Noble

P.A.G.E. Cofounder Lydia Noble (Photo Credit: Lydia Noble)

Why bother attending City Council meetings?

You must see and hear for yourselves what happens.  How else can you recognize misrepresentations by elected leaders?  Their self-reports, our limited local news and city press releases aren’t enough.  We have individuals in elected city positions masquerading as leaders to the detriment of our city.  No one stops them because the majority of us don’t know what’s happening right under our noses.

The latest example of fake leadership?  Once again, the mayor and council eliminated public comment at council meetings.  The public has a right to comment, to ask questions and challenge elected officials in public.  Per the city clerk, this was done at councils’ request.  But all decisions regarding council agendas rest solely with the mayor.  When I asked why, instead of an answer, I was informed I can contact council by email, phone, or US mail—poor substitutes for face-to-face interactions before the full council in a public forum.

First, council members do not publish their direct phone numbers on the city website, so most cannot call a specific council member directly.  Second, council mail is subject to public record requests and must be officially recorded.  Great!  But council mail is opened BEFORE members receive it.  This opens the door to distrust and censorship.  Alternatives exist, but I think twice before mailing council members anything.  Third, P.A.G.E. sends emails to city elected officials.  They remain largely ignored and unanswered.  Others here have experienced similar.

Public comment isn’t perfect.  Rarely does any dialogue occur (as is the practice).  After public comment, the mayor routinely states that city staff will respond to questions raised.  So why am I still awaiting many responses?  It’s not the staff’s responsibility.  The mayor and council should ensure prompt responses to concerns directly related to council decisions and actions.  Conclusion?  There’s no real intent to answer my questions.  If a constituent dares to point out problems or question decisions, they’re often ignored.  Fake leaders do THAT best!

How to identify fake leadership?  Fake leaders tell people what they want to hear.  Truth and facts aren’t important so they produce few (if any) tangible change or results.  How many times has this community been overpromised something?  Think Frigitek, Northgate, etc.  They’re overly concerned with “appearances” and lack follow-through (i.e., Welcoming and Inclusive Resolution.)  They exaggerate successes and offer excuses effortlessly (i.e., our underperforming TIFs.)  They govern by fear and control, unconcerned about building open, honest, trusting work environments (i.e., the complete breakdown of prior councils’ working relationships.)  They willingly bypass checks-and-balances to accomplish what they or their supporters desire (i.e., removal of purchasing card expenditure reporting and violation of city financial policies.)  Fake leaders willingly hide information potentially damaging their image or that of their supporters.  How many know the city has multiple active lawsuits—six as recently as two weeks ago?  Two of those having multi-million dollar claims exceeding current city ICRMP insurance limits!  They lack transparency and communicate poorly (i.e., the removal of detailed budgets from the city website.)

To protect themselves, fake leaders obscure facts, blame others, decline discussion or offer half-truths (i.e., the mayor’s recent blaming the lack of regular Capital Expenditures funding [Fund 78] on the former council when HE actually [and questionably] directed “reallocation” of this funding to offset a large General Fund deficit.  Three still-current council members were the majority voting FOR that decision TWICE.)

Public comment is vital.  It is videotaped and proves regular citizens actually do attempt to bring up difficult issues and facts in efforts to better our community.  Authentic leaders don’t dodge these comments or ignore facts that might change their minds.  They allow people to be heard, engage and ask questions.  They thoughtfully examine evidence, request additional data and strive to de-escalate tensions.  Agreement can’t always be achieved, but exchange and debate are fundamental principles of democracy that authentic leaders encourage.

Last Fall, a P.A.G.E. representative appeared before council four times and sent an email requesting answers about a FY23 city-provided budget document.  Not one member of council (or staff) ever tried to answer her questions.  Instead, after one public comment period, the mayor (frustrated with her persistence) claimed that she’d been answered—at least four times!  Ridiculous!  He rambled on, offering an absurd “fake” answer.  When she calmly asked for claimed prior answers to be provided, he responded “we spoke in person.”  It never happened!  Our important questions remain unanswered.  It’s these uncalled-for experiences that drive P.A.G.E. to share what we learn and to help the public be better informed.

Fake leaders do not welcome scrutiny.  Especially if you aren’t on board with their actions or decisions.  If you ask tough questions, expect to be discounted, ignored and labeled as negative, an obstructionist or worse.  The mayor and his followers believe Pocatello is so wildly successful that criticism is undeserved, certainly unwelcome.  Even legitimate questions should not be asked, let alone answered.

The questionable decisions and behaviors I witness repeatedly at council meetings won’t change until there are consequences.  Pocatello is “your” city funded by your tax dollars.  The public has a right (and responsibility) beyond the ballot box to ask questions and seek accountability.

If you care about this community, open your eyes.  Be informed and engage in critical thinking.  Stop blindly accepting hearsay (even mine) and do your own research.

The choice is yours.  You can continue to bury your head in the sand and pretend there aren’t problems, or you can begin investigating.  Do your part to ensure a strong future for Pocatello.  Start by attending meetings and email the Mayor/Council to restore public comment at mayor@pocatello.gov and city.council@pocatello.gov.

Lydia Noble is a long-time resident of Pocatello, a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh, and recently retired from a 30-year career at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) as a Business Professional.  She co-founded Pocatello for Accountable Government Entities (P.A.G.E.) on FB out of concern about Pocatello’s high property taxes and to work to ensure that retirees on fixed incomes are able to continue residing in Pocatello.

Image Credit: Idaho State Police


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