‘Gag orders’ and city business are never a good mix

Penn Strategies is a consulting firm charged with doing the city of Williamsport’s bidding on grants and other funding totaling in the millions of dollars and pertaining to a variety of important initiatives.

The firm is, in effect, the city’s key financial agent in attempts to secure money to pay for flood levee recertification, Grafius Run improvements, the Old City development in the city’s East End commercial district and other important projects.

It’s probably not a good idea for the firm’s president, Jason Fitzgerald, and the city’s mayor, Gabriel J. Campana, to be feuding.

So a gag order imposed by the mayor on Fitzgerald prohibiting him from speaking to the Sun-Gazette does not seem like a directive that benefits the city.

But that’s what Fitzgerald says was imposed on him and, apparently, rescinded by the mayor last week.

Fitzgerald said the gag order was imposed on him following comments that compared his firm’s compensation with that of Delta Development Group, which works on behalf of River Valley Transit.

The mayor says he only told Fitzgerald he could not speak to the presss before coming to him. Fitzgerald disagreed with that interpretation and said talking to the newspaper is part of his responsibilities and said he will continue to exercise his First Amendment rights.

So will we.

Our job is to present to our reader/taxpayers a full accounting of what is happening with the city government they are paying for with their taxes. That includes fully representing those with dealings that involve the city.

It includes fully representing the ideas of the mayor, City Council, other city decision makers and those commenting on city business as well.

Without this full public airing of city business, including what those in power are thinking on any city matter, the public is being shortchanged.

And that must not happen.

We will continue to do our best to make sure it does not happen. We hope all those intertwined with the business of the city of Williamsport will do their part by merely cooperating.

The mayor needs to understand the newspaper is not the public relations firm of his or any other administration. Our job is to report the administration’s business as it pertains to the city’s residence and taxpayers. We have been down this road before where cutoffs of information are threatened.

In such cases, we have always found a way to continue doing our job of informing the public, with or without mayoral cooperation. Ultimately, such threats are really a slap in the face of the public the mayor and others are sworn to serve.

To that end, cooperation is the minimum the public should be guaranteed. We hope that minimum can be exceeded by a healthy dose of honest public information on all city issues, including the thoughts of a consulting firm being paid $100,000 annually.

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