Calling for council cooperation
Published: Monday, November 12, 2012 at 11:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 9, 2012 at 11:13 a.m.
Well, the political shouting and posturing is over for the time being, and with a little bit of luck, we might now have an atmosphere of respect and manners in the daily work of governance. Or not. It is going to be up to both the winners and the losers of this year's battles to temper their combative nature and get back to work, addressing the staggering range of problems that confront us, from the White House right down to City Hall in Petaluma.
This piece is being written before the election returns are known, so at the local level, we don't know with any degree of certainty who will be charged with patching up Petaluma's problems, or what tools they will have to work with. One thing is certain - the problems will still be there when the new regime is sworn in next January.
A new City Council, whomever it might be composed of, has an opportunity to do something that has not been done in Petaluma for almost two decades: Work together, all seven members, proverbial sleeves rolled up and eager to tackle the formidable challenges. Seven members, all of one mindset, that being to find ways to make things happen instead of finding ways to keep them from happening.
Sound utopian? In this town, it probably is, but it doesn't have to be.
The political ossification that has characterized the U.S. Congress has been mirrored right here in little Petaluma. In both places, political considerations have overridden efforts to fix ruptures in the system. The result is, nationally and locally, people are getting sick and tired of it. The public expects, and deserves, better.
So how do we go about it locally? How do we solve problems of not enough money to run the city, repair the streets, fix a woefully inadequate wastewater infrastructure, maintain everything under the sun, and get our police and fire departments staffed and equipped to a level at which our community can enjoy a reasonable degree of security? That's just the tip of the old iceberg. The city also has to deal with items such as the State of California's confiscation of massive amounts of redevelopment agency funding. These are dollars that, among other things, have been earmarked for major internal infrastructure improvements.
One starting point is for our mayor to put his bombastic, divisive discourse on hold, and start working with all members of the council to find solutions. Next, the council moderates have to make up their minds to work with the progressives.
But, there is another part to this puzzle. The council has another tool at its disposal: City Manager John Brown. Although it has been obscured by the council's micromanaging frenzy over the past decade, the fact is it is the city manager's job to run the city, and that includes finding solutions to staggering problems.
This is no criticism of Brown. Faced with no real council consensus on hardly any major issue, from finding funding sources to letting shopping centers come to town, he has labored within the restraints imposed by the deep divisions.
But, our city charter is quite clear - it is the city manager's job to run this city, not the council's. He has been educated and trained to deal with the myriad details of municipal administration, while the politicians seldom have more than a little preparation. The council's job is to set policy, then stand back and let the manager run the city. That's the way it is supposed to be on paper, but it hasn't worked that way in Petaluma for some time.
I am certain that, in recent years, the city manager has made a number of proposals to help stabilize the city, and that some have been enacted, but also that some have been opposed by one faction or another. But there has not been a joint declaration by all seven members that they are directing the city manager to develop a plan to address the daunting challenges facing the city, and that they are pledged to work together to help him implement such a plan.
Sound like fantasy? It shouldn't.
(Don Bennett, business writer and consultant, has been involved with city planning issues since the 1970s. His e-mail address is email@example.com.)
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