Following the lead of Darrell Steinberg, Breton seems to
agree with him that the 'strong mayor' play will somehow "increase...[the] identity" of the
City Council and provide more "pushing and pushing" that the two of them
seem to think the strong mayor system would bring with it.
Measure L's juicing on the "cheerleaders" argument ("everbody else...so we'd better....") not only doesn't wash when you're thinking about your system of governance, it doesn't even gel with the facts. It's just Breton baton waving and ignores what the National League of Cities and others say about what Americans prefer in mayorial power and governing structures for their cities.
We think our City Council has a few other problems besides an "identity problem",
but ok. If you think about it, the proposal does take power from the Council
and delivers it to the mayor. So now, the Council members will have to line
up at the mayor's door with everyone else, and woe to those districts the mayor
doesn't care to accord access. So you not only have Council members trying
to tailor themselves to fit through the KJ funnel neck, you have them vying with
each other for the privilege. Hmmm, what's that like? What you really get is
not more "pushing and pushing" you get everyone pushing against each other in
the same direction— the Mayor's door. Sounds like a zero-sum game to me.
Breton insists the Mayor's favored policies ("public safety" and so on)
are jeopardized by not having hiring/firing control over city executives (Police Chief,
City Manager,...). There's some weight to that, and it does seem reasonable
that the principle elected official might be in the best position to oversee the
executive operations of a city.
But is that any reason to charter in a whole raft of powers
to do that? For one, it suggests the City Council is not concerned with
public safety, and wouldn't support reasonable proposals from the Mayor to improve it.
Untrue, of course. He just has to convince six Council members that his ideas, or who he
wants to fire or hire, are warranted. Tougher to do, yes, but not unreasonable.
Johnson has been pretty good at convincing the Council of a whole lot of things, and without
a lot of vaguely understood new powers.
For that matter, if that was the wrinkle—just hiring
and firing—we could turn it around and give the Mayor more power
council-side by simply drawing a much narrower provision that says, in effect,
in matters of hiring and firing city staff (perhaps a few other internal
matters about running city departments), the mayor will have three votes to
everone else's one vote on the issue -- that is, the two or three least
reluctant on the Council will agree to go along with the mayor barring
some truely horrendous reason they can't. It can even be an informal thing (no law against that)
and we can try it out for a year or two and see how it works. Perhaps, instead
of more "pushing and pushing" we might try a little "cooperation and accord" and
see where that gets us? Ok, a little more mayorial authority, a little less 'counce-orial'
authority, but without needing to change the city structure.
Breton assures us, after glowing assurances, if we happen to have
"buyers remorse" over the deal, we can always change it back, in six years? Ah, that's
the way a city should run, like a private business, and we're just customers. If you don't
like what you bought (into), why in six years the "Returns Dept." will be open and you can
take your purchase back to the store, yes? That is what Breton's saying, isn't it? Of course
there will be a restocking fee, a city processing surcharge, clerical
support and custodial service charges, and the usual spate of legal fees, staff time, consultant bills and some other add-ons for the damage your
broken toy government did in the interim,... Let's see, that comes to, oh yes,
just about what you figured you lost on your "buyers remorse"
package in the first place. Don't complain, you broke even. Except, it is still unlikely we will
be able to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.
There are some folks who think that's all ok. At least judging by the way private
business is buying up every public asset and core municipal function it can get it's hands on.
They seem to forget cities are not private businesses, nor should they ever be. They
certainly can learn how to be more efficient in working for the public interest. But six years,
some thug working the mayor's position (oh no, never happen) can do one helluva lot of damage if
one is clever enough in wielding that power. A future mayor could wind up mortgaging the city --
or bankrupting in that amount of time, and for the next 50 or 100 years rather than the normal 15
to 30. In election cycle time, 6 years isn't very long. But, in messes and clean-up terms, it can
be a whole lot longer than you'd want your children or grandchildren to have to deal with.
Breton attempts to punch in his "private model of public process" theory with the
promotional sound-bite that "Most major cities..." have switched to the executive mayor system.
Hmm, new bandwagon?
Actually, no. According to the The National League of Cities , reporting on the 2006 IMAC survey
that found more than 50% of the cities responding voted "to decrease the power of the mayor."
From 1996 to 2006, the number of cities using a 'council-manager' form of government (which is
even a step less "mayorial" than our form) went from 48% to 55%. Come to think of it, Detroit
has had a strong-mayor form of municipal government for a very long (and very hard) time. Still does.