A familiar feeling
We are getting a familiar feeling concerning Charter revision – a feeling we’ve had every time said revision has been attempted in the city: Disgust and disappointment. For the past 18 months or so, the Charter Revision Commission worked to update, improve, and yes, restructure, city government. And we would venture a guess that many or most of the recommendations posited by the commission fly in the face of the status quo, and, therefore, are not looked upon kindly by the political establishment.
It appears that despite the 18 months of work put into the review and revision of the document that serves as the city’s “constitution,” the City Council appears unprepared to do its part to make sure it is a smooth process toward a vote in November. At the two public hearings last week, it was evident to many that council members either had not bothered to read the document, or found it more than they could comprehend. Neither is an acceptable explanation.
In its deliberations, the Charter Revision Commission sought to do a major overhaul of a system that, quite frankly, works not well in the current era. The city has been under state control twice in the last quarter-century, has lost its two-party status, being controlled by various flavors of the Democratic Party, and has offered under its current format some lesser lights in running the city. The commission sought to reverse course by doing what other towns and cities have attempted to great success.
- It sought to reduce the number of council districts from 10 to 3. Each district would have four representatives and at least one would be of the minority party. This is a good change. Too often the minority party – the GOP, or even a third party – has had only one representative, allowing for no discussion of dissenting opinions;
- The reducing of the power of the mayor to that of a president of the City Council, and its 13th vote. The city would come under the day-to-day operation of a City Manager with experience in public administration. Over the years, the city has suffered from inexperienced people becoming mayor and filling their offices with cronies – with as little experience as the top of the ticket. The results we see;
- Demanding that departmental heads have credentials in their given fields, taking away from politicians one of the “spoils” of victory. This would be done through attrition;
- Looking to consolidate and reform departmental structures to eliminate waste and overlap.
The lack of preparedness by the City Council makes it look as if the members are “slow walking” the recommendations, pushing off the date of their consideration by the voters until after November’s election. Under the current state-mandated schedule, the council had 45 days to consider alterations in the initial report by the commission, and then it had 30 days to consider those proposals. All is then set for a November question on the ballot.
The fact council members were unprepared is troubling enough. What is more troubling is that once the commission hands in its final report, it ceases to exist. Pushing off the vote past November will serve to have it fade from the electorate’s memory and allow those who oppose any change to marshal their forces.
We’ve been here before. We’ve seen other charter revisions go down to defeat because the political establishment was threatened. They should be threatened. The council does not need more time, it needs to do it homework. The schema for charter revision was set up by the council. It should do its work, read the report, make its proposals and allow a vote. To do otherwise and couch it in terms of “digesting a large proposal” is derelict.