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Who’s got the memo?

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The chattering classes in Greensboro last week – and we count ourselves among that group, certainly – were thrown a delectable chunk of raw, red meat with the publication of an internal Greensboro Police Department memo on both Ben Holder’s Troublemaker blog and the front page of The Rhinoceros Times.

The memo details the creation of the “black book” allegedly used to implicate African-American police officers in wrongdoing under the administration of Chief David Wray, who resigned under fire in January 2006.

It was a legitimate scoop for the blogger and conservative weekly – which published it more or less simultaneously – particularly because the News & Record had filed a records request for that memo and was told by the city that it “doesn’t exist.”

Which of course it did.

So huzzah for the scoop. But taken in context, its meaning is still unclear, evidenced by the fact that opposing factions both cite it as some sort of smoking gun.

And both sides are wrong.

This memo did verify the existence of the document that has come to be known as the “black book,” and outlined the situation that led to its creation. This is important because some have doubted that there was such a thing as a black book.

What it did not do was undeniably refute the accusation of other, more nefarious purposes for which the black book had allegedly been used. And it gave no clues as to why Wray, following questioning by City Manager Mitchell Johnson, asked his deputy chief to secure it in the trunk of his car.

But the real story behind the memo lies in the city’s reaction to the N&R records request.

Surely there’s a veritable mountain of paperwork pertaining to this thing somewhere in the bowels of Melvin Municipal and in the hands of David Wray’s lawyers. But we’ve been chattering about this case for two years now, and that apparently no one knew this thing was lying around is either shameful, because it means that no one on city staff is actually reading the files for this case, or patently ridiculous, in that we are supposed to believe the city didn’t know about this memo.

The former, at least, implies no duplicity on the part of our elected officials and those under our municipal employ, merely incompetence.

But surely there is some of the latter at work, considering the city’s ongoing culture that fosters an instinctual urge to suppress information. Even the perception of ignorance or impropriety chips away at the city’s credibility when credibility is in short supply around here.

Transparency was a pivotal issue in last year’s municipal election, surely signifying a wish from the people to be better informed of civic activity, warts and all.

But the memo is just another card – albeit one dealt out in a timely fashion – in a poker game that will not play out until we see what everybody’s holding.

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