Why blow off the Memorial Commission?

Mayor Steve Bach hopes to encourage more citizen participation with his new “Spirit of the Springs” initiative. He wants more people to serve on committees, more people to run for city council, more people to apply for city staff. And he wants people who aren’t usually involved with the city to become more involved.

It could be a hard sell if volunteers aren’t even appreciated or credited now.

The Memorial Citizens’ Commission was made up of nine volunteers who were asked to tackle the complex health care industry, learn about rules and regulations, about Memorial Health System specifically — and to recommend to city council what to do with the municipally owned hospital.

They spent countless volunteer hours. They organized more than 50 public meetings, including four public hearings specifically to gain input from the community. They set up web sites and conducted opinion polls. They met in every corner of the city.

They set up subcommittees to examine specific issues. They hired a nationally known consultant to lead them, and they interviewed health care executives from around the nation.

They were asked to make a recommendation — and they did.

In the months since then, the commission’s members have heard that they were biased, that they didn’t properly do their job, that the 173-page report — complete with polls, matrix and every single detail of how they reached their decision — wasn’t good enough. They’ve heard that they weren’t thorough enough.

They’ve heard complaints from City Council that they were mere sheep being led by Memorial CEO Larry McEvoy. And this week, Mayor Steve Bach added his voice to the chorus of criticism.

Is that any way to encourage citizen participation? Who would volunteer to put their time and effort into the city — only to receive unending criticism from the city leadership?

“We pick people, ask them to make recommendations and then we blow them off,” said City Council President Scott Hente. “I’m tired of blowing our citizens off.”

Bach, however, apparently didn’t see it that way. He’s managed to — despite city charter that doesn’t give him sway over Memorial — find a way to have a voice about the hospital’s future. He’ll be picking the group that will lease the hospital’s assets.

But the next time he needs volunteers for a transportation committee or an open space group — maybe he’ll remember to thank them for their time and effort. Maybe city leadership will even take the time to review the work, even if it was done before they were elected.