Oct. 22—On Monday, Westover City Councilor Ralph Mullins called for an independent investigation into the various controversies surrounding the Westover Council and police department.
Councilor Duane Tatar responded, "Are you going to allow an investigation when you have nothing before you other than accusations, innuendos ...[?]"
Um ... yeah.
The thing about rumors—those accusations and innuendos Tatar referenced—is they only grow. Westover City Council had the opportunity to set the record straight once and for all and tossed it in the trash instead.
The other thing about rumors: They don't need to be true—they just need to seem like they could be true. Council's refusal to allow an independent investigation to look into the claims brought forth by Mullins and members of the community seems to give credence to the allegations of wrongdoings and cover ups.
The court of public opinion is a harsh one, and once people have delivered their judgment, it's difficult to change their minds. The City of Morgantown learned that the hard way when construction on the riverfront encroached onto private property. The appearance of underhandedness is not a good look for government officials.
The success of public entities and public officeholders lives and dies by public perception.
And the perception at the moment is that Westover's police department and mayor—and by extension, the city council—have been acting pretty hinky.
If Westover's council is smart and values its residents' trust, it'll bring up the motion for an independent investigation again and this time approve it. If there's nothing to hide, then there's no reason to prevent the investigation. There will, admittedly, likely be a financial cost, but the dollar amount will be worth it to restore confidence in Westover's government and law enforcement.
If there is something to hide ... Well, best to get it out into the open now and get it resolved. People appreciate transparency and justice. It's better to face any issues head on and fix any problems while still in the public eye.
True, public trust may be shaken at first, but making the investigation accessible to the community, as well as making visible any corrective actions that need to be taken, will rebuild residents' faith in local governance and reduce fears that council or the police department will abuse power in the future.