Thursday, March 13, 2014

Climate for Change & Transparency

Many in Purcellville feel a sense of elation and relief with the news this week that the the apartment applicant has withdrawn their application.  The entertainment complex is weighing their options and have requested a delay.  Outside of this development, some other changes have taken place, and much needed ones.  

On March 6, 2014, Mayor Bob Lazaro sent out an email via his official government email requesting residents to take part in a survey. "I realize for many it is difficult to get to a Town meeting due to family commitments, work etc. As such, I have put together this short citizen survey so you can let me know whether you support or do not support the project. I will share the results with my Council colleagues."  

Unbeknownst to many in our town, this email list is maintained and distributed solely by Mr. Lazaro and not via the town, other council members, or accessible through the town website. I myself once was on the distribution to receive Mr. Lazaro's email updates but they stopped in the fall of 2012 when I started speaking out publicly against the apartment development and it appears this has occurred to other residents as well.   

On March 7, 2014 I made an inquiry with the town manager inquiring whether this survey would be accessible through the town website and efforts be made to distribute it in a equitable fashion.  
The response was:
I am not aware of any survey being conducted by the Mayor or any TC member. I have ask our staff and there seems to be no knowledge nor do we have any copies or links to any such survey. I will forward your request to the Mayor for clarification. 

To further muddle the validity of this survey, this was an additional response sent by the town manager: 
This survey wasn’t sent by the Town or managed by the staff so it clearly isn’t an official survey nor would it be anywhere on our website or any other official publication of the Town. I’m not sure who was collecting it and what it was being used for but our staff hasn’t seen it or used it in any staff reports. 
I’m not sure who created it or how the data if any would be used. As staff, I’m reluctant to put a survey that wasn’t created by the Town staff or approved by the TC on the Website. In addition, the Town generally doesn’t use “yes or no” surveys for decision making in land use cases. We provide public notice to the community and required legal adjacent property owners. In turn, we receive public comments by email, regular mail, petitions and public hearings which are all a matter of public record. 
I can only assume that someone or group sent this out for their own personal use. I hope this helps and thank you for sharing this information with me so at least I know why people are sending emails this morning. I will pass it on to the Mayor for clarification. 

This survey was solicited via a distribution list that was only sent to select people chosen at the will of the mayor.  Many residents who regularly receive Mr. Lazaro's email updates did NOT receive the survey email. This was a blatant attempt at providing a biased outcome and it is shows the lack of transparency and ethics of his office.  

Many of us in the community complained about this potential breach of ethics and it appears that Mr. Lazaro has now decided to send his updates via his personal email address (pictured below). His update email still has the look of official town correspondence and there is no disclaimer explaining that it is not sanctioned town correspondence. 

Mr. Lazaro once had the 
official town seal on them and has since removed it.  But the next step to true transparency will be Mr. Lazaro, and of course our future mayor, making sure that all who receive the 'Mayoral Updates' know the true source of the content.  A better step would be to make the updates accessible via the town website and available to all residents who wish to subscribe.