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With the dredge down and the streets in shambles, it is of little wonder that Storm Lake Public Works Director Jason Etynyre dodges uncomfortable questions from the hometown newspaper. In recent weeks and months we have asked Etnyre 13 times for information on the dredge operations (or lack thereof), the city’s relationship with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, delayed street projects or potholes the size of Newell. Each of the 13 times there is no response, other than to send him an email that he could ignore.

We would hide, too, if we were him.

Our reporter tracks him or City Manager Jim Patrick down at public meetings to ask pent-up questions not answered in innumerable requests.

Either they can’t answer the question — “Why has the cutter head on the dredge failed three times in as many months?” — because they honestly don’t know or they are too embarrassed to tell the truth, or they just walk away deaf and dumb.

And that’s okay for now. The public understands.

There’s a dry rot at the top.

Patrick is biding his time until he can retire and move to Montana sometime next spring. The council should get rid of him before then, before we burn more dollars than we would in a negotiated severance package. The council has chosen to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. We can wait out the lame duck.

But what about Etnyre?

We assume the city council, long committed to safe streets and a healthy lake, would ask Etnyre the questions we would pose:

• Why is the dredge a wreck when it ran so many years under the direction and care of the public works department?

• Why can the gracious George Antoniou of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources answer our questions about the lake finances when city hall cannot?

• Why does Geneseo Street ride like something out of Mississippi?

• Why was snow removal so confused last season?

• Why are his charges openly criticizing him?

We would like to know the answers to those questions.

The city manager should be asking them, but he has been running scared himself after raising taxes and cutting budgets and slashing services. The public works director merely is following his lead.

Etnyre is in over his head but can’t admit it. That’s why he is hiding from straight questions to which there are factual answers. The city council should demand answers about how things have fallen apart so badly so fast. The public deserves to know.

SOME MIGHT THINK that we are just being cranky. Maybe we are. We have covered every professional administration Storm Lake has known, from Clarence Krepps to Alan Winders to John Call to Patti Moore over the past quarter century. They were available, open and transparent even in the worst of times. There were moments, certainly, when each of them would like to start a fire with the newspaper and roast the editor with it. Each of them knew they were custodians of the public trust and had an obligation to explain how they were shepherding that trust. We miss them.

Likewise, department heads held themselves to the same standards of accountability. Public Safety Director Mark Prosser, Fire Chief Mike Jones, City Clerk Sue Vossberg, the Code Enforcement Officers, former Infrastructure Director Pat Kelly and former City Clerk Justin Yarosevich all held or hold themselves to the highest standards of accountability — even when it was uncomfortable. (Kelly might turn your ear red over the phone, but he would answer every ugly question and at the end wonder if the fish were biting.)

That’s why the behavior of Patrick and Etnyre is so mystifying. The council clearly has supported — indeed, demanded — accountability and openness in a wise effort to build trust within the community and with its other partners.

That trust is eroding.

WE ARE IMMEDIATELY CONCERNED FOR Storm Lake’s relationship with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources over lake restoration and protection. IDNR is rightly disappointed that the dredge has been such a horror show the past couple years. IDNR would like a meeting in November to discuss goals right after the election and right before the legislature convenes in January. IDNR is said to be preparing a status quo budget for next fiscal year. We would hate to be left out in the cold because the state does not think we can administer its funds efficiently and effectively. IDNR Director Chuck Gipp told us that he would support dredging here so long as it produces bang for the buck. We cannot make a compelling argument right now that we are holding up our end of the bargain. That’s scary.