Validation at last! Larry Schuster’s Feb. 23 “Soap Box” column in the Columbia Business Times called for something I have talked and argued for since moving to Columbia five years ago — professional executive and legislative branches of government properly compensated for their time and efforts running the city of Columbia. There are other suggestions made by Schuster and the Visioning exercise, which I disagree with or believe should go further, but we have a common starting point.
An all-volunteer government is great for a small town, but not for the city Columbia wishes to become. Like it or not, our permanent residents will grow to over 100,000 shortly, and we need a government that reflects the increased complexity of big-city management.
There is a minority who believe that government officials do nothing, pray off the taxpayers and are otherwise corrupt; why else would they be in politics? If you believe that the responsibilities of a City Council member is anything less than full time, you are completely out of touch with the nature of running government, listening to Rush and Ann just too much, reading too many extremist Libertarian pamphlets and use your own name to define “anarchy.”
Due to work constraints and obligations to students, I could not make the Visioning process meetings, especially the Transportation and Government committees. Not that my voice would have provided more insight, but getting involved is much more productive than simply complaining.
If I had attended, I would have put forth a not-so-radical idea — the complete rewrite of the city charter including the revamping of the council, keeping the current six district representatives and adding three at-large council members, all full time and all with support staff. The mayor would no longer be a member of the council (currently the at-large member and the figure and talking head for Columbia) but would sit as the head of the executive branch of the city government. No more “City Manager” who is not directly responsible to the citizens. (I like Bill Watkins, not the political appointment he holds.)
Schuster’s belief that a $1,000 a month is “indicative of the work and effort we expect from our council members” shows the low regard and expectations we have from our city officials. Let’s get serious; this is a bigger and more complex job than having a title and neglecting the commoner.
I would not suggest, as Schuster did, an annual salary of $12,000 to $18,000, but $100,000 for the mayor and $75,000 for council members. Sounds outrageous? Considering that the current city manager is being paid well into the six-figure income puts the new pay scale in perspective.
There are also good business reasons to establish a professional executive branch of the city government. By establishing a proper and fair remuneration package there is increased perceived responsibility to the citizens of Columbia by the council members. In addition, a larger pool of highly qualified individuals would seek office. Not that our current members are political Neanderthals, but their authority is lessened because they are “only volunteers.” On the contrary, the council members do a great job, but would do better if they were not tied to outside jobs to make ends meet.
As with transportation, resources and workforce availability, corporate America wants to know that a city government is responsible to its citizens including, contrary to some naysayers, the corporate interests of Columbia. A professional city government will be able to respond to the needs of the citizens of Columbia faster by being able to negotiate with businesses who are seeking new locations to establish their businesses and with those seeking to leave.
Larry was right when he stated that running a city government is not attuned to being “civic club members.” The council is responsible for the life and death of Columbia, a 24/7/365 proposition. Let’s compensate our officials properly and provide the tools they need to make Columbia a great city.
David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.