Monday, April 09, 2007

If you are on the city council, there is a test every other Tuesday. I'm for whoever will do the work

When you sign up to take a class at a university, you know the drill. The semester is 16 weeks long, there will be tests and a final exam. You have classes to attend, homework problems and books to read. If you don't keep up, there is a really good chance that you are going to bomb the tests.

When you are elected to the Carbondale city council, you know the drill. Every second Tuesday there is a meeting. There are a whole bunch of full time employees working during those two weeks and they (hopefully) get things done. This is the test.

We can think of the city staff as the professors, they show up everyday and do stuff. The city council/mayor are the students. If they show up at city hall everyday, then they have time to figure out what they are doing and take notes.

On the Friday before the test, there is a review packet of information handed out by the city manager to the city council. It is big and harry and nasty collection of legal documents and status reports. Let's look at this as the text book for the class.

The city manager holds study sessions before each meeting, for most of Monday and all of Tuesday, he is known to be available to help city council members understand what is in the meeting packet. Call this the study session.

How do we know the information is available before the meeting? How does the newspaper know to print important information before the meeting in preview form? There is a published list of what is going to happen before the meeting. Items don't appear on the agenda on Tuesday that weren't there the previous Friday.

So, the test rolls around on every other Tuesday. The lights and cameras are on, the city manager, the press and public are there. Everyone has had a chance and there is a meeting.

The problem is, that not everyone has studied. I received an email from someone "in the know," who attends most every city council meetings. Their estimate is, 85% of the time, the city council members have not read the documents before the vote. A helpful thought about good government isn't it?

Clearly, if you haven't had time to read the packet, you also didn't have time to do the meetings to generated the work items in the packet. The best you can do is vote blind or ask for the test to be pushed back. If you look at the discussion at the city council meetings, only Brad and the city managers are on top of most issues. No one else has done the work.

Someone wrote in recently and asked me which city council candidates I support. I support whichever candidate will read the packet and come prepared. All the candidates except Liz Lewin would be fine with me, if they do the work. What we do know is that Sheila, Steven and Lance have a track record on this issue and we suspect what the results will be from that.

Sheila is even running for mayor, even though she doesn't have the time to read the darn packet before meetings and really understand the issues well enough to vote on them without asking for an incomplete first. That means if she is mayor, only the city manager will understand most issues. No one will have the time to drive anything, because right now, only Brad is driving issues. Even if you are going to vote for Sheila because you are a Democrat, Paul Simon supporter or liberal, this should be your biggest concern. If Sheila will not allocate time to do the work, Carbondale will be screwed if she becomes mayor.

How do assign grades for our current city council members? Do they really have input that isn't completely superficial in the meetings? How often have they had to beg off votes, because they haven't done the work? How often have they voted without understanding the issues? If you don't do this week's work, does it help you to push it off for a couple of weeks or does that make you more behind?

Your comments are welcome.


Anonymous said...

So because Simon wants more public debate on a significant issues, you conclude that she hasn't done her 'homework?' Maybe she just realizes that these are important issues that are worthy of open discussion, rather than running them through the city council in a rush.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Actually, I think that Sheila doesn't do her homework, because she doesn't do her homework. She comes in after all the details are worked out and then wants to revisit all the details again. Either get into the game as the work is being done, or vote like a part time, city council member is supposed to.

If the city council doesn't do the work for this weeks meeting and it runs as long as it can possibly run. Does pushing issues off to the next weeks meeting, sound like a good solution?

I certainly agree somethings should be discussed further. It is easy to make that happen, propose and vote for delay. It is all right there in the rules.

The city council is allowed to talk to each other outside of the meeting. They are allowed to research before the meeting. The problem is that they don't do enough work.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I have been taken to task by a current city council member, because they do their homework. OK, I agree that one of the current people who is not up for reelection (it might even be 2) does keep up, and does seem to vote from an informed position.

My apology to the council members (in particular the one who contacted me) not up for election this time, we will come back for that discussion in 2 years. ;)

Writing provocative blog entries is difficult sometimes, good thing that doesn't stop me.

Philosophe Forum said...

Obviously you're not happy with the city's current form of government. Why don't you initiate action to change it to the type of government you really want?