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LETTER: Kennedy's off with his take on City Council's relationship with city manager

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | 12:49 p.m. CST; updated 12:55 p.m. CST, Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I fully agree with the headline for your March 5th column (COLUMN: Seating location of city manager symbolic of larger issue). Unfortunately, after that your presumptions are faulty, you lack understanding of local government and you fail to grasp human nature.

The city manager form of government means that we the people elect the council, which acts as our board of directors for city government. With that understanding, it makes sense that the Chief Administrator (CEO) reports to his board. That board then reviews these reports and sets policy. The board reports back to the stockholders (citizens). If a board member is not up on the issues, doesn’t understand the staff reports or isn’t savvy enough to tell when they are being misled, then they need to be replaced.

If a board member wants to meddle in the day-to-day operations of the company he or she needs to get a paying staff position that would allow them to do just that.

The issue, isn’t the strength of the city manager, in this case, it is the ineffectiveness of the council.

I found the opposite to be true of the city staff. Staff from top to bottom is so indoctrinated with the “don’t anger council” mentality that they bend and manipulate their input (and sometimes the law) to please council.

Ray Beck’s longevity and power came not from his manipulating the council but from allowing the council to manipulate him and staff. The man always kept track of the vote count and sided with the majority. He had a symbiotic relationship with the mayor – you find me the votes and I’ll find you the money – for whatever. Staff on down knew to not point out council failures or inconsistencies. Yes, he had his own point of view, but if opposed by council he would drop it, or at least shelve it until council was of the same mind.

You wouldn’t take this “let them meddle” attitude if you disagreed with the council member suggesting it. The attempt is to subvert the administrative form of government. Someone you tend to agree with, or at least have positive feelings for is championing it. If it were someone you generally disagreed with, you would have been calling for their head. “Council Attempts Power Grab” would have been your take on the story. (Maybe even Hank’s take.) Before you begin to suggest shifting power, you should look at it from this angle: What if those I disagree politically/philosophically wanted this? Now, what would I think?

Your suggestion of hiring an intern would be the most ineffectual response you could have. A non-experienced trainee, with no background in city administration, out on their own, housed with and working with the staff they are supposed to review. Now there’s a recipe for disaster.

Council needs to get back to setting policy. Not reviewing, on a never-ending basis, the width of sidewalks or the size of the flowerbeds. If they would do that, they would have time to research and discuss those policy issues.

To me it seems that the more a councilperson talks and the more they want to meddle, the less they have to say, and the more it is about their own ego.

John John represented the Fifth Ward on the City Council from 1999 to 2005.


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Comments

Mike Martin March 10, 2010 | 2:31 p.m.

Wow! Just absolutely wow!

I started reading this thinking it was going to be John John the former pro-development councilman shoring up the city manager's power base and the City Hall status quo, but came away from it even more disturbed about the dysfunction that exists between City Council and City Staff.

"Staff from top to bottom is so indoctrinated with the 'don’t anger council' mentality that they bend and manipulate their input (and sometimes the law) to please council."

Coming from a former councilman, this is just explosive!

"Ray Beck’s longevity and power came not from his manipulating the council, but from allowing the council to manipulate him and staff. The man always kept track of the vote count and sided with the majority. He had a symbiotic relationship with the mayor – you find me the votes and I’ll find you the money – for whatever."

The long-rumored Mayor-manager symbiosis -- confirmed! I kid you not -- many of us Hall Watchers have long thought there was some kind of private "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" relationship between the Mayor and manager. And John confirms!

Outrageous!

"Staff on down knew to not point out council failures or inconsistencies. Yes, he had his own point of view, but if opposed by council he would drop it, or at least shelve it until council was of the same mind."

Awful. What kind of dysfunction do we have here?!

The only other comment I have about this explosive, eye-opening, and damning revelation about how City Hall works is that I've never thought of engaging in democracy as "meddling" and I hate to hear John John use that term.

But that's beside the point here. This is great stuff, J-School students. If anything ever represented a proverbial nail in the coffin of the City Hall status quo, this indictment from a former, conservative council member is it and I intend to write about it in the Columbia Heart Beat.

Mike Martin
http://www.columbiaheartbeat.com

PS: What in heaven's name is wrong with this website???

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