Perceived conflict robs Niles of one of its strongest leaders
Published 12:41 am Monday, March 27, 2006
Last Monday's resignation of Scott Clark from the Niles City Council was a blow to more than the city's fourth ward.
Clark was an advocate for all citizens of Niles and his dogged determination and assertiveness in making things happen in this city will be missed.
Even those in his own ward who seemed to think the city's world would come to an end after Clark was first elected to his position have since openly admitted to being pleasantly surprised by his leadership and accomplishments on the city council.
"He was a supporter of ordinary folks," I heard more than one person remark after his unexpected resignation Monday.
Clark resigned his position when it came to a decision that amounted to his remaining on the city council or giving up his long-held contract to repair and maintain the city's police vehicles.
Several months ago, questions about whether it was a conflict of interest for Councilman Clark to hold the contract, which hadn't been re-bid for about seven years, became a point of controversy.
Second ward councilmember Dan Vanden Heede, with whom Clark rarely saw eye-to-eye on council issues, pressed the matter. He was followed by second ward councilmember Robert Durm and first ward councilmember Patricia Gallagher. Each ultimately voted to end Clark's contract with the city. Councilmembers Georgia Boggs of the first ward, Robert Chute and Bill Weimer of the third ward and Bruce Williams of the fourth ward, voted in favor of Clark retaining the contract.
With his resignation, Clark only needed a simple majority to retain the contract, which he received.
I don't think there was any conflict with Clark's council service and his servicing police vehicles that couldn't have been easily managed by other council members and the city's administration.
Maybe in the strictest of interpretation, I can understand the train of thought that led to such a conclusion. The reality is something entirely different. While members of the council who voted against Clark claimed he was not the low-bidder on the contract, the fact is comparing the other bids with Clark's was like comparing apples and oranges. Fair is fair, and comparing the other contracts submitted with Clark's wasn't fair.
In fact, the city benefited from first-rate service and maintenance from certified master mechanics, all of whom probably provided extra attention to police vehicles because of Clark's leadership position in the city.
We need to be careful in using such broad, judgmental brushstrokes lest we back our community into a corner and alienate ourselves from the talents of the best and brightest among us simply to avoid the appearance of a conflict. In our small community, we can't afford that.
In the strictest of interpretation some would say newspaper staffers shouldn't be members of civic groups or similar organizations, like the Chamber of Commerce, because such involvement could color how that newspaper reports on issues of controversy that involve those groups. The reality is, particularly in small communities like ours, involvement in those groups by the community newspaper means a greatly-increased awareness that the group wouldn't otherwise receive.
We've never run away from a difficult or controversial story and we won't.
At the same time, this community benefits because this newspaper is in a leadership and cheerleading role in this community.
When you look at the things accomplished in our community over the last dozen or so years and think of those involved in making those things happen, the same names keep cropping up again and again.
In communities like ours, where we are constantly searching for volunteers to fill board vacancies and begging for new blood to become involved in our community in a variety of ways, we need to trust in the common sense of people we've put in positions of authority. We need to have faith in our fellow citizens that they won't keep in office someone who they think has a conflict of interest and we need to trust the checks and balances in place in our system.