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by Mike Ceremello
Jan 6, 2005
Dancing With The Council
Another council meeting and another glimmer of hope that the same olí same olí will soon be a thing of the past. Perhaps it will happen when we have some new leadership from the Mayorís chair. It might even occur from leadership that will arise from other chairs along the dais. But I do see some cracking in the faÁade of intransigence towards taking a progressive approach rather than one of defense and denial.
The response to the Grand Jury report for this year has elicited these musings. What started off as a tirade against the "shoot from the hip" style of the Grand Jury and their irresponsibility by Councilman Vega, oscillated between this and a more reconciliatory approach by Councilmen Hughes and Manson. Councilwoman Courville had elements of both in her comments but predominantly made the assertion that its defensive tone and failure to resolve the issues flawed this response. Mayor Erickson was silent during this phase of the discussion.
There were three individuals that spoke to the issue from the community, one being myself. Heber Holbrook stated that he had some familiarity with military law and if you donít have proof, you throw the complaint out. Larry Simmons again congratulated the Council on the good work they have done. He went on to say that a lesson should be learned from the accusations and contradictory defense within the response. Then it was my turn.
My points are the same ones I have made all along. The response to the Grand Jury was a waste of time as facts were ignored to justify the denial of all accusations, which would cast the City government in anything other than a good light. The response was defensive and non-factual. The response was non-cooperative and confrontational.
Three key areas were highlighted in my speech. The issues of statements made by the City Manager, the lack of promptness in responding to the Grand Jury requests, and other false statements and assumptions by staff involving the travel policy, were brought to the Councilís attention.
As I have personally stated to the City Manager, I really donít care if he made the statements he was accused of making. To me they appear to be at most poor judgment on his part. Instead of denying them, or being silent, it would be more productive to acknowledge this as a wayward comment that has been a learning experience and will not be repeated. End of discussion.
The issue of stalling tactics while viewed from the perspective of the length of time it took to satisfy the Grand Jury, 9 months, is demonstrative of a conflict in viewpoints concluded from the same facts. While some would say there is a reasonable explanation, I preferred to place the professional responsibility back in the laps of the high salaried individuals that represent our City. Several council members had made the point earlier that communication with the Grand Jury could have alleviated this allegation.
Both the Council and the City Attorney were unaware that last yearís report also complained of stalling on Staffís part. Councilwoman Courville went as far as to say she had reviewed last yearís report and hadnít found the verification for the complaint. I pointed out it was on page 30 of that report.
A minor point of factuality concerning the currentness of other citiesí travel policies was shown. The final point was that staff had no business assuming what form the policy would take, either as an ordinance or resolution. This should have been for the Council to decide if they hadnít already behind closed doors.
I made some final suggestions of the appropriate manner to respond and improvements that should be made to this document. The removal of defensive language and cooperation instead of confrontation were two of them.
After deliberating some twenty minutes as to the truth to my remarks and the poor fit this document had with the facts, the concern shifted to getting this document out on time. Does this sound typical of our local politics? Is it more important to be timely or correct?
In my opinion, the whole document should have been rewritten to eliminate the defensive rhetoric and the non-truths. The leadership of the Mayor came out at this point as he continuously pointed to the necessity of being timely with this response. Why wasnít he concerned a month ago about having time enough to change this document if it didnít meet with majority approval? Could it be that this is just the type of response he and his supporters find conducive to their political ends? The Mayor is a sharp cookie.
Manson and Hughes would have none of this argument but Courville was finally convinced and the letter with minor modifications was approved.
My observations and musings on this are as follows. There is little accountability within our City government, either because of personal pride and ego, or because we wouldnít look good if we admit there is a problem. I was pleasantly surprised by Courville who seemingly surmounted her initial reaction where she looked at the report as a personal attack, to address the tone and quality of the document. She now needs to make the next leap to standing up for her beliefs instead of supporting the exigency of the minute.
The City is still at a major crossroads in how business will be conducted. There is still a shrouded confrontation going on between the power brokers representative of the status quo faction of politics and those in this town with progressive, proactive, and constructive ideas.
It is much harder to accomplish new projects when you spend the majority of your time defending yourself. It might just be better to agree with your critics, resolve the issues, and move on. Think about itÖ
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