Editorial: South Portland deserves better from city councilor

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If most of us were absent from work 10 percent or more of the time we’d probably be in trouble.

If we thumbed our noses at our employers’ rules and policies, we’d probably be looking for new jobs.

If after that kind of performance we expected to be promoted, people would think we were crazy.

Not South Portland City Councilor Brad Fox.

Fox, as staff writer Alex Acquisto reported last week, has missed more than a dozen meetings and workshops in little more than a year in office. He has bailed out of meetings because things didn’t go his way – and as a result hasn’t been part of important council decisions on other issues.

Fox also flagrantly ignores South Portland’s email protocol, which requires city councilors to communicate with constituents and each other about city business via a city email account. It’s a safeguard that, in combination with Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, helps protect the public’s right to know and ensures city business will be conducted transparently and in the light of day.

But Fox believes the city policy should apply only to city employees, not a “citizen-elected guy,” as he describes himself. He unapologetically said he doesn’t adhere to the city’s email protocol because he just doesn’t agree with it.

As one observer of South Portland government said after reading Acquisto’s story, Fox’s “brazen contempt and disregard for open government laws is nothing short of stunning.”

We agree, and would suggest Fox take a refresher course on Maine’s Freedom of Access Act – except that he never took the course in the first place. The council’s FOAA training session is one of the meetings Fox skipped.

Fox’s commitment to the economic and social causes he values is admirable. But his disdain and disregard for the basic principles of good governance cut the legs from under his policy accomplishments. He was elected to do a job, and apparently has no interest in doing it all the way.

Mayor Tom Blake suggests Fox’s behavior is excusable because the council is dealing with issues involving oil- and energy-related businesses about which Fox is passionate.

But the rules don’t change based on the council agenda and councilors’ personal passions. There’s no excuse for Fox’s win-at-all-costs attitude, or for the lack of responsibility and accountability the council has demanded from him.

When rules are broken or ignored, and others are changed in the middle of the game, trust in government is eroded. And to many observers, South Portland City Hall definitely has a trust problem.

Now Fox is poised to be the Democratic Party candidate in Maine House District 33. It’s a classic good news-bad news situation.

The good news: Fox may be elected to the Legislature, and could decide to give up his City Council seat.

The bad news: Fox may be elected to the Legislature.

The last thing Maine needs is another politician – er, “citizen-elected guy” – who ignores the rules and is only interested in governing when it advances his personal causes.