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Exercise in incredulity
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Exercise in incredulity

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City Council members don’t put much value on their own honesty if they have to back it up with lie-detector tests.

That’s one message they send with their senseless plan to sit for polygraph examinations in an effort to prove who did or didn’t leak a copy of the Police Department investigative report to the News & Record.

Suspicion focuses on Councilwoman Dianne Bellamy-Small, the only one who refuses to participate. Maybe she’s hiding something — the News & Record editorial staff doesn’t know the source of the leak — or maybe she’s just smarter than her eight colleagues. Once they start on this path, there’s no limit to the situations that could call for similar measures. Every time they promise to address some problem or undertake a project, should council members include an affidavit affirming their pledge along with a certified-to-be-telling-the-truth polygraph result? They should be careful because some residents might press for verifiably honest answers to lots of questions.

This case is different, council members insist, because it might have been a violation of law for perpetrator unknown to divulge the contents of a publicly funded report about underhanded activities in the Police Department during the administration of former Chief David Wray. That’s a weak contention. Certainly, no legal authorities have expressed an interest in investigating this dubious crime or punishing the culprit.

Moreover, this report has had a powerful impact, leading to Wray’s resignation, fueling further investigations and causing concern and anxiety in the community about exactly what sort of wrongdoing did occur inside the department.

Council members have read the report. Based on its findings, they’ve supported the actions taken by City Manager Mitchell Johnson to force a change in police leadership and begin fixing the damage. To the public, however, council members have said little more than: Trust us to see that it all works out for the best.

“Trust us” are funny words to hear from people who now think they should attach their integrity to a polygraph machine, who in fact have become so distrustful of each other that they rushed to endorse this exercise in incredulity, certain that someone will be caught in a lie.

What do they really hope to prove, anyway? That they can keep the lid on a report they’ve decided the public shouldn’t see? Why don’t they just release it? Only recently, they called unanimously for public disclosure of another confidential document — the SBI’s Project Homestead report. The people have a right to see it, they said. Do they recognize the irony now?

Their previous commitment to open dealing doesn’t square with the petty vindictiveness apparent now in the pursuit-by-polygraph of the suspected sieve. By exposing someone, if they can — and subjecting him or her to, what, a scolding? — they risk embarrassing all. Because this won’t be the last time they’ll be asked to prove they’re telling the truth.

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