Sunday, November 30, 2008

City Manager or City leaders, which do we need?

11/30/08 BY Terry Bankert

A conversation with the Flint Journal Editorial Sunday 11/30/08 Journal article in quotes.


“With talk heating up about casting off Flint's "strong mayor" system in favor of a hired manager form, many must feel the city's faltering government needs fixing. But is this the right fix”

TRB: The only heat is the coverage of the Flint Journal manipulating a League of Woman study group into something it is not. Once again the Journal beats the drum to the disenfranchise Flint voters.

“The city is gearing up for its second mayoral recall election within about seven years. Mayor Don Williamson and the City Council have seemed incapable of setting a budget without traipsing to court for judicial help to settle their insurmountable differences. The only reprieve from years of governmental dysfunction seemed to come along after the 2002 mayoral recall, when the state imposed a financial manager to restore solvency and largely suspended the city charter.”

TRB: Close, the real problem is how our leaders interact.

“No wonder the local League of Women Voters is studying possible scenarios for charter revision, including a scrapping of the ward system in favor a council elected at-large.”

TRB:The Journal writes this like it is a forgone conclusion.That these are the answers. They are not the changes we need. The answer is in the people who choose to become active in this community.

“This discussion can be healthy and productive, as long as it does not raise impossible expectations. A new charter by itself will not guarantee candidates for office who show true leadership and are held in esteem for the long haul, let alone get them elected. “

TRB: Here the Journal moves close to a mature analysis.

“Nor should we delude ourselves about the rigors that charter revision entails. The process would take many months and could even stretch into years, beginning with a vote on whether to even elect a charter commission. After much work, a proposed document might be rejected.”

TRB: This insight should reach a conclusion different from the paragraph that follows.

“Despite those caveats, Flint remains a far different city than in 1974, when the current charter was adopted. The strong mayoral form was favored then as the best way instill accountability and to draw talented leadership.”

TRB: The strong Mayor is still the best vehicle. What is needed is a Mayor that builds coalitions for change and a council that understands its budget responsibility and the role of legislative oversight.

“Now, the question is whether Flint would be better served by a swing back to a weak-mayor form of government, with a professional city manager or administrator.”

TRB: The Journal advocates that the above question is before us , it is not. The professional manager is embedded in the current charter by the city administrator position. Where is the Journal on compliance with the current charter? Clueless come to mind.

“Perhaps an even better solution might not be a city manager at all, but rather a regional government, though the structure of charter townships in Michigan would make that hard to achieve.”

TRB: Once again the tired promotion of the Journal for regional government or county executive. A private sector like model regularly rejected by our communities. Dogma is not leadership.

“As for how members of council are elected, the ward system has its pluses and minuses, as does the idea of electing council members at-large. Some communities have had good experiences with a blended system, where some are elected by ward and others represent the city as a whole.”

TRB: Nothing will change with the current blend of people and/or how they act with one another. Our culture of politics must change. That will occur with new people investing in the politics and public policy advocacy of this city. Not to immediately become leaders but to engage , learn, build coalitions and lead in the future.

“So let talk of a new charter take into account all of this, while minds remain open to all possibilities. But wherever it leads, this much is certain: A charter is merely a written guide and will work no more or less admirably than the people who navigate through it. True leadership will find its expression within whatever set of guidelines it is handed.”

TRB: The issue is true leadership. How do we get it?

Posted here by Terry Bankert

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