Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Is the Carbondale system of "strong city manager" form of government broken?

I have been wondering of late if our weak mayor and strong city manager form of government is most often less effective then a more traditional strong mayor system (no city manager). If we look at the advances the city has made in the last few years, it seems like having a full time mayor produces better results then we have had under the city manager. If we look at the city's results over 40 years before, it is certain the city has fallen behind where it should be.

Maybe it is having the mayor working 40+ hours a week, instead of working 15? Maybe the city manager's position removes him from the will of the people and turns that roll into a servant for the city council members, so results don't matter much? Maybe Carbondale has just been unlucky, time after time?

It is hard to believe that any city could do as poorly as Carbondale has done, given the gifts of SIU, the regional hospital and medical, and the regional mall, unless it was programmed to have poor results.

What do you think, should Carbondale change over to a strong mayor system? It is a great time to think about it, the city manager might well retire in a few years.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

[b]I have been wondering of late if our weak mayor and strong city manager form of government is most often less effective then a more traditional strong mayor system (no city manager). If we look at the advances the city has made in the last few years, it seems like having a full time mayor produces better results then we have had under the city manager. If we look at the city's results over 40 years before, it is certain the city has fallen behind where it should be.[/b]

There is a reason why local governments have moved away from full time mayor systems -- they are the vestiges of pre-Progressive movement politics where party organizations ruled based on patronage. Partisan (read: strong mayor, weak council, non-existent manager) systems are susceptible to tremendous amounts of corruption. Given the disparities between the haves and have nots in Carbondale, this would be a plan for disaster and political abuse.

That's not to suggest the current system is perfect and doesn't need tinkering, but reams upon reams of history and evidence suggest that the alternative would be far worse.

Gary Walkup said...

Of course, this isn't an option in the upcoming election, but I'd prefer to have a SUCCESSFUL businessperson be elected Mayor. Notice the emphasis.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I'm pretty sure that no successful business person will run under the current form of government. The other problem is that our successful business people live outside of town.

To Anonymous -
I once heard a sad story about a new mother who was deeply concerned that her new baby would learn to walk and fall down a flight of stairs and be hurt. To solve this problem, the mother cut off the baby's legs. I'll allow you to draw your own parallels between Carbondale's government and my story.

I agree that 50 or 75 years ago that the city manager style of government was the flavor of the month, like a world government or not tracking kids in school. The problem with all these ideas is the unintended consequences of when you implementing them.

In Carbondale, our city government is broken. We have had a full-time mayor for 4 years and he has shown us the results that we might have with a strong mayor. It could be that the voters of Carbondale would prefer to have SIU and SIH as the center of all things in the city and never grow or develop other businesses? The city government has done a good job historically of keeping the status quo and making sure other employers don't come to town.

I agree there is a possibility of abuse, but the city has an insider click in hiring historically. Until Brad took over, it was almost impossible to do business in town if you weren't an insider (a reasonable reader might consider this a problem). I think you are mistaking the willingness of Illinois citizens to accept corruption and special insider treatment with the a strong mayor system.

If Illinois voters were really serious about corruption, they would start eliminating unneeded levels of government. We the most taxing bodies of any state, and the political parties are stashing their workers in those jobs and letting us pay for it.

A challenge to the pro-city manager commenter, quote some references and show us some literature that agrees with your claims. How about something that is less then 25 years old. We could start with how many cities have switched to city manager and away from city manager in the last 10 years.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough to ask for backing. I'll get back to you when I have a chance to look them up. If I can't find any, I'll show back up and say so.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I'm going to do some research too and do more writing here. I'll look into it more and meet you back here in a week or so.

Thanks, looking forward to what I find. I know that Carbondale hasn't worked and it needs to change.