Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Editorial: For the Love of God, Sit Down In a Room!

Last night City Council decided against rescheduling a meeting they had previously canceled.  A meeting which in my opinion may have been the most important in Southfield history. What was the purpose of this meeting envision a long term plan for the city.  Something that is greatly needed and has been for years.

Fundamentally the decision to have the meeting fell through for three reasons.
  • Budgetary implications of a long term plan
  • The possibility that Councilman Fracassi would be unable to attend
  • A desire by some parties to bring in an external consulting firm to help
At the end of the day I believe that none of the reasons should have stopped council from scheduling the meeting.

Budgetary Implications
Originally the meeting was simply a "visioning session" but staff made the point to Council President Siver at a president's meeting that creating a long term plan would mean setting priorities for the city and that making choices about those priorities would have budgetary implications. For instance hypothetically if Council said they wanted to increase curb appeal and beautify the city it very well could mean bumping up code enforcement which might mean hiring more people or at the very least paying for overtime.  The same goes for safety. Police programs and operations cost money. At the end of the day any long term plan would force council to literally put their money where their mouths are.

If I was the type of guy who made New Years Resolutions; I'm not. I would need to realize that it might take some money. I want to get in shape, I need to look at the cost of a gym membership  and a diet cookbook. I want to read more. Books cost money. I want to fix up my house. Well we all know how expensive a new roof can be.

This was the big hang up. Councilwoman Jordan and Councilwoman Seymour believed any talk regarding the budget should wait for the City Administrator and Mayor's drafts.  I disagree. In the prossess of making those drafts priorities need to be set, and I believe those priorities should be set from the top. Council is elected. The City Administrator isn't.  Sure when it comes to specific projections and the numbers he's the guy, but when it comes to cops trump roads and roads trump parks, Council needs to do that.

Fracassi's Out of Town
This one is an easy fix. Councilman Siver called him and Fracssi said he would be back in time.  But more over it points to a larger problem.  The past few meetings have been ... less than full. The last commitee-of-the whole meeting had four members present.  That's barely a quorum. I get that the flu has been going around. I get that serving the city may take building relationships outside of it.

But come on.  If you can't be there don't run.  The bare minimum is showing up to meetings. While I would like that grand plan to save the city and creating a booming economy that reverses Metro-Detroit's emigration, at this point I would just settle for HAVING AND ATTENDING MEETINGS!  And that it needs to be said is sad. I'm not going to lie. Back in the day I skipped some of my college classes. I had it mapped out so I knew if I was going to be absent if it would affect my grade and how much, but I expect the city leaders to be better then college cowboys ditching.

A desire by some parties to bring in an external consulting firm to help
As angry as I was over the past month I don't think I said what I am about to. I thought it would be disrespectful and would create a weird atmosphere if I needed to talk to these people in a room, which I was thinking about doing in preparation for the upcoming election. I wanted interviews and didn't want to lose access.. Do your damn jobs. You're our elected leaders. Leadership is creating a plan and getting people to commit to it. Create a plan and get people to commit to it! Sit in the damn room. I can understand a policy debate. I can understand disagreements about city priorities. I can understand an impasse about money. I can't understand a refusal to even sit in a damned room and talk. 

Why Is This Important

Long Term Investment - Some problems cost more the longer you wait. The city doesn't have the money to commit to every long term project they want, but they can create priorites based on what is fiscally prudent. In particular I wish they could sit in a room with public works, engineering, MDOT and the Oakland County Road Commission and the Oakland County Water Resources Commission and strategically create long term infrastructure priorities.

Direction- At the end of the day the budget is a statement about what the leadership feels is important. What is important enough that they're willing to allocate money towards it. Saying early on,"This is what we stand for; this is what is important; this is what we want to do." Gives the staff, and department heads a clear direction. A direction that frankly I think they've been lacking for a while. Not only in the budgetary process but on policy in general. Where is this city going and how?

Democracy- As I've previously said it should be the democratically elected officials creating budget priorities, not staff. I like the City Administrator. I don't trust him. I, we, can fire City Council if we don't like how they spend our money. I can't say the same about the City Administrator. The West Wing said it best.

"I know what you're thinking. It must be lonely being this mean old guy who doesn't trust anyone. Well I trust my brother, my four children, my nine grandchildren and my dog.  I suspect that's more than you trust. Now isn't it"
"The founding fathers didn't set up a government based on trust. They could have designed a government based on trust and our ability to govern fairly, but they knew that power corrupts so they invented checks and balances. That was genius. The founding fathers didn't want me to trust you and they didn't want you to trust me."
 God I love that show. Anyway my point the budget is too important to just have faith in the City Administrator.

Physical Development - I want development and I always felt that in order for that to happen the government has to step up. In terms of infrastructure assessment, administrative process, road construction, public transportation, workforce education, data records, polls and surveys.  Doing all of that could take decades and requires a long term plan. I didn't expect Council to walk out of the room with that plan but I expected a rolling ball.  Instead I got.

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