Transparency & The Reservoir

by Jean Allen

I remember a conversation I had with Mary Lupien five years ago at a coffee shop. We’d run into each other and were talking about some local Rochester controversy at the time, when another person with us expressed amazement that we even knew anything about what was going on in the city. That week another friend complained about their kids’ experience with the schools, the decay of Rochester’s infrastructure, and the state of downtown, yet expressed astonishment that I had any contempt for the mayor, who they thought was doing a great job.

Our city has a transparency problem. While we have several amazing projects by movement journalists, broadly our news media avoids controversial topics, focusing on journalistic work which advertises this city as a good place to drive to. What that leads to is a shockingly petty and personalistic political space, where politics is often a matter of loyalty or disdain for particular political figures, rather than anything substantial. It also leads to the vast majority of the people in this city not understanding that the issues they face are political issues which they can change. The image we basically get is of a city where nothing happens, or at least nothing that any one person can affect.

Last month, we were all given notice that our water was potentially unsafe to drink after a body had been found in the reservoir. We were given a boil water notice for half a week before we were notified that the body of Abdullahi Muya (a resident who had been missing since February 18th) had actually been in the reservoir for over a month without the knowledge of the city. The boil water notice was retracted and we went back to going about our day.

Now, the whole reason we have a water treatment process is to make sure that an incident like this does not fully contaminate our water supply, and there’s no reason for conspiratorial levels of alarm. But this event should give people pause about the governance of this city.

Generally, I think people accept that they have no clue what happens in the halls of power because they assume those people have our best interests at heart and are doing a good job for it. But when someone has been found dead in the reservoir for a month, the fact that we can only discover key information about this city’s governance via hearsay and rumor is a further slap in the face. The people of Rochester deserve to know what is happening in our city.

Editor’s Note – Check out Red Star’s coverage of a previous transparency gap involving our water supply, ‘We Keep Us Safe When the City Fails,’ by Skye K, from February 2023, available at: rocdsa.org/blog/we-keep-us-safe-when-the-city-fails.

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