In September 2007 and again in June 2009, The Lebanon Democrat – in this space – called for a dialogue about the pros and cons of a city manager form of government for Lebanon.
We asked for a d-i-a-l-o-g-u-e – not an out-of the-blue decision by a few, which is what we seem to have gotten. And which also raised several interesting points in our mind.
But befpre we get to those points, let’s make sure everyone understands our past and current intentions before some start misconstruing them for their own benefit.
The fact that different mayors held office – in 2007, it was Don Fox, and in 2009, it was current Mayor Philip Craighead – when each previous editorial was written should prove that we couldn't care less who is in the mayor’s seat.
The bottom line is we are tired of watching the finger pointing and the blurring of lines of responsibility that we have seen in Lebanon for the past several years – under two different mayors.
We took – and still hold the position – that a city manager form of government is better because it should diminish the political friction between the mayor and other city council members. With a mayoral format, there is no way politics can be removed from the mayor-city council equation, because each office holder must always consider how his or her actions will impact their chances in the next election.
With a city manager, political friction should then become about policy decisions (the primary job of elected officials) not the day-to-day management of the city.
In a city manager format, the city manager becomes the equivalent of a corporation's chief executive officer, with the mayor being the chairman of the board and the city council the board members.
Would a city manager form of government stop all of the political bickering and posturing? No, that only happens in utopia. However, it should reduce that political posturing and bad behavior we have seen by all of our elected officials and that includes every council member and mayor at one time or another.
Which brings us to our first interesting point – the only changes that have occurred since we wrote the first two editorials and now this one, are one city council seat (William Farmer was the Ward 3 representative in 2007 and 2009, and Rob Cesternino now holds it) and the Commissioner of Finance (Harold Bittinger held that slot in 2007 and Russell Lee holds it now).
This leads us to another interesting point: Why bring this issue up now, when the budget has yet to be set? Why divert attention away from the most important task at hand – setting the 2011-2012 budget?
Granted, the 2012 election year is around the corner and a resolution needs to pass before the beginning of the 2012 legislative session, but couldn’t the four members pushing for this have waited until after setting the budget to introduce it?
Unfortunately, that leads us to a point we wish we didn't have to make, but one that is on the lips of many in our city. The timing of the resolution submitted for a vote Tuesday night underscores the impression that some on the council are using their power to penalize the present mayor. While we expect the four council members to cry foul at this suggestion, we must caution them with the following words – "perception is reality" – and to many, that is the current perception.
In addition, the way the resolution is currently written adds fuel to that perception. The current responsibility of the mayor is administrative, which explains why he is not considered part of the legislative branch and cannot vote accept to break ties. But in the resolution, the mayor will serve primarily as the presiding officer of the council and the "face of the city," continuing to have little legislative authority except to break tie votes.
We disagree with this. As the only elected official who represents the city at large, we feel strongly he or she should at the very least have the same vote as the ward representatives in the new form of government – should it become a fact.
We’re glad they decided to hold a public hearing next Tuesday before the council meeting, but we would rather have seen a budget passed, then public hearings devoted to nothing but this issue held.
At the time we wrote the previous two editorials, we were unaware that such a change could occur simply by a majority vote of the council on the resolution to enact the change, passage by the general assembly, followed by the council’s ratification.
Lebanon may be one of only six city governments established by a private act, but that doesn’t mean that the public’s wishes should be ignored.
Many may argue that if it is put to a vote of the people for ratification, the change will not occur. Maybe, maybe not. However, had this been thought through properly, then the pros and cons for the change could have been laid out in a civilized and comprehensive fashion, and answers to many people’s questions could have been provided, such as, but not limited to, the following:
1. What will be the job description for a city manager – complete with detailed explanations of the duties and responsibilities, including the hiring and firing of city workers?
2. What will be the required education and experience qualifications?
3. What will be the salary and benefits?
4. What will be the length of contract and under what circumstances could he or she be fired?
5. What recruiting methods will be utilized; i.e., where would the job be advertised; would the MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service) be called in to assist in screening the applicants, as well as the interviews?
6. Who would make the final hiring decision? The full council, including the mayor, or a committee of the council and/or mayor?
These are just a few of the critical questions that the citizens of Lebanon deserve to know the answer to before a change in government takes place.
In 2007 and 2009 we called for a dialogue about a possible change because we believed, and still do, it will benefit the city of Lebanon. We did not call for an oligarchy to make the decision without discussion.
However, that appears to be what we have gotten.