It is disappointing to hear the city manager dismiss the Washington County Superior Court’s decision granting former Planning Director Gwendolyn Hallsmith a new hearing as “purely procedural.” The court’s decision was based on a finding that city officials committed two blatant violations of the U.S. Constitution in dismissing Ms. Hallsmith. The city manager’s remarks suggest that he thinks the basic constitutional protections we enjoy as citizens are mere window dressing.
To be very specific, the court found that the city violated Hallsmith’s rights when it failed to allow her to cross-examine the witnesses against her. The right to confront the witnesses against you is not window dressing, Mr. Fraser, but is a fundamental protection embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Exacerbating the fundamental unfairness of this aspect of the hearing is the fact that, while Hallsmith was not allowed the right of cross-examination, the city attorney (who should have known better) was allowed to cross-examine Ms. Hallsmith.
Point two. The court also found that the city violated Hallsmith’s constitutional rights when it appointed the assistant city manager, who had already made up her mind about the case, as the hearing officer. Again, the U.S. Constitution clearly entitles people like Hallsmith to a hearing before an impartial adjudicator. This constitutional protection is not “purely procedural” either, but rather embodies the most fundamental notions of common sense and fair play.
Our mayor, a lawyer, had the bad sense to speak out against Hallsmith prior to her hearing. So did the city manager and the City Council. I am not a supporter of Hallsmith and it may well turn out that her termination was justified. At the very least, however, I expect our city officials, both elected and appointed, to play by the rules of the game and to treat the citizens of this city with the same basic fairness that they would expect if they were in Hallsmith’s shoes.
Finally, to lament, as Fraser did, the additional “resources” that a new hearing will cost the city borders on the absurd. The culprit in this fiasco is not Hallsmith’s assertion of her constitutional rights (although it never hurts to try to blame the victim), but rather the ineptitude of city officials and the city attorney who somehow convinced themselves that the clear requirements of the U.S. Constitution didn’t apply to this case.
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