Boise Mayor Lauren McLean ran her campaign on a platform of transparency in government. Unfortunately, in recent days, McLean has made it abundantly clear that her version of transparency does not include having any open discussion on important policy issues as much as it means creating the illusion of community involvement.
On Tuesday, for example, at the request of the mayor, healthcare executives from across the city participated in a live briefing focusing on the current state of COVID-19 in Boise. Noticeably absent during this briefing was any diversity of thought regarding how to move forward in a balanced way in the era of COVID.
Not surprisingly, given the makeup of the speakers involved, the sentiment was uniformly voiced that Boise residents need to simply “hunker down” in the coming months. Hospital executives recommended the city take additional measures than it already has to include “bring[ing] enforcement and consequences to those businesses that are not employing good practices.” Piggybacking off this sentiment, McLean went further, stating her intent to institute policies meant to assist the employees of businesses following good COVID practices in any way it can with reporting and dealing with patrons not complying with COVID mandates.
This briefing, of course, was not any kind of discussion with the public as to how to move forward as much as it was simply a broadcast of select data points intended to lay the foundation for future enforcement actions to be released later this week.
If the mayor were actually being transparent with regard to community involvement and the formulation of public policy, wouldn’t she similarly livestream a briefing from various prominent local business leaders? Do they not also have vitally important perspectives and expertise on how we can proceed as a community and what measures can appropriately be taken in attempting to maintain some measure of normalcy?
In fact, despite numerous measures that the mayor has instituted on the issue of transparency since being sworn in, measures such as posting her daily calendar online, having an open door policy, and hosting monthly listening sessions with the public, these measures are little more than window dressing.
Just Wednesday morning, the mayor hosted one of her monthly “listening sessions,” for example. Effectively, it consisted of the mayor informing residents of her opinions on various issues using a select number of pre-submitted questions which were screened through her communications director—hardly an act of transparency, and hardly any kind of open discussion. Just as was the case with the COVID-19 briefing, there was little balance and no actual conversation to be found.
Conversely, if the mayor wanted real transparency with regard to decision making, she could have used that listening session to air out her proposals regarding the upcoming COVID enforcement measures she is currently entertaining. If she did, the public could have actually had an open, robust conversation on best practices. She did not. Instead, she left residents guessing as to what further dictates she would release in coming days—not exactly a very transparent act.
In her opening days as mayor, McLean stated, “Boiseans voted overwhelmingly for a change in style and tone, embracing a vision for a transparent, accessible, and accountable City Hall. I want to honor the spirit of that vote, and commit to you in this first week some changes in how we’re doing business.” I wish I could say Mayor McLean is living up to that promise. The reality, however, has been one of optics rather than substance.