Mea Culpa...sort of.

Aaron over at Treasure State Judaism has an excellent post up. (Sorry it took me so long to find it, Aaron, but when posting is light at your place, I don't check it as often as I should.) Aaron's very cogent point is that we run our City with what is essentially a volunteer board of commissioners. I tend to focus more of my criticisms on "staff," who are paid, but of late especially I have taken some pot shots at our elected commissioners.

On reflection, I think I am too hard on them in some instances. They are volunteers, and rather than being hyper-critical I need to respect the efforts that they do exert. I have been asked occasionally if I would run and the response is usually something along the lines of "I'm not crazy." Well, neither are they, but they're trying to serve just the same. I don't have any illusions that our Commissioners read this blog but if they did, I would offer them a very sincere apology. "I'm sorry."

But don't forget the "sort of." Because don't forget that, volunteers or not, they did ask for this job...more than once. I think that there are some things that we can and must expect of them under all circumstances.

First, I think we are entitled to know that important matters before them receive a full and complete airing and discussion. I don't necessarily see that. What I do see, though, leads me to one of two conclusions and neither is good.

On the one hand, we might assume that WYSIWYG. We might assume that Commissioners do not discuss important documents like the budget or big contracts in detail and simply rely on staff to do the right thing. That would concern me.

On the other hand, we might assume that the lack of public discussion is indicative of much greater 'behind the scenes' activity. That perhaps information and thoughts are changing brains before and after meetings, in emails, and in hallways. That would concern me even more.

Second, given that they are a volunteer board, they should recognize that fact. Some might argue that a the notion of a weaker elected board overseeing paid staff is a limited government concept that has been perverted over time. In other words, if our City Government stuck to the basics, police, fire, streets, etc., our 'weaker' form of government might work just fine. It is, instead, when our government expands its horizons into grand entrepreneurial (coal plant, water park) and regulatory (sign code, zoning code) schemes that the inherent frailties of its form become apparent. If our City Commission is going to be volunteer, maybe our City Commission needs to lower its sights.

In any event, I will remember the institutional shortcomings as a way to temper my criticisms, although I think that paid staff deserve all of the scrutiny they receive.

I also think this is a good springboard for the consideration of possible changes to our form of government, the first of which might be a salary. And don't forget my planks.


Anonymous said...

• noun 1 a person who freely offers to do something. 2 a person who works for an organization without being paid.

The mayor and commissioners are NOT volunteers.


2.0.015 Salary

The salary of each Commissioner shall be $312 per month. The salary of the Mayor shall be $468 per month. (Ord. 2814, 2001; Ord. 2652, 1993; Ord. 2818, 1988)

Montana's laws regarding procedure of open meetings;


Treasure State Jew said...

Anon; I am sorry. With that $3,744 a year, a commissioner should very well be able to quit their job, feed their family and devote 100% of their time to city business.

No, I still categorize that at bubkis. What we are offering is a small stipend that helps to defray a few expenses. For the kind of decisions are commission are making, that is still what I consider a volunteer board.

Geeguy, you are right. It is the 'extracurricular' activities of our commission that make the job harder than it might have to be. However, even without those activities, the city is still a pretty large organization.

I would rather be governed by someone I elect, rather than by someone hired by elected representatives who don't manage that employee. Just my preference, and one that I submit is almost impossible under the form of government that we have chosen.

And by the way, my site isn't updated often enough to justify visiting it daily. However, I do heartily recommend the conveniences of RSS.

Anonymous said...

The word culture comes from the Latin root colere (to inhabit, to cultivate, or to honor)

Definition as in:(n) culture - the attitudes and behavior that are characteristic of a particular social group or organization

So it is possible the problems stem from alleged internal controls and accountability procedures that cannot be independently certified through public discourse.

It is a cultural problem within the current form of city government.

(Oh, and here's another subliminal linked message in support of The Plank)

Anonymous said...

I'm not disagreeing with you at all, but please don't confuse a poorly paid job with the inalienable right to do the job poorly.

These people CHOSE to do this, knowing the pay, and decided, for whatever reason, that there were other perks that made it worthwhile. They have an obligation to do it right and well. If not, they can quit, we can recall or we should set higher standards, pay and sights to attract better quality individuals (hopefully) and hold the people who take the job to higher standards.

Just because someone WANTS the job doesn't mean they're qualified for the job.

Anonymous said...

And just because one has qualifications doesn't necessarily mean one is proficiently qualified.

Anonymous said...

Just read TSJ.....I thought commissioners did receive some
> compensation,
> as that was a point against more commissioners being added, thereby
> increasing city expenses.
> You're right, we do 'get what we pay for' BUT that's not what we
> need to accept. What's the cost of not compensating commissioners
> fairly? We get an asylum run by the 'inmates' and I've seen this
> situation in military reserve units, where even the part-time
> commissioned
> officers 'abdicate' their authority to the full-time staff sergeant
> at the armory during the week.
> The reservist is fairly paid, but for a reserve leader to do his
> duty well, then there are many days other than drill weekend that
> tasks, reports and training plans must be prepared, with occasional
> estra drill pay offered.
> Consider all the studies this commission has 'commissioned' (how
> about the $45K water/sewage study never completed and examined before
> the commission voted 7 Jun for water/sewage for the coal plant?),
> wouldn't we be better off spend several thousand bucks up front
> so the commissioners DO their duty? They are honorable citizens who
> volunteer, but they must be a more reflective, critical-thinking
> body than they are now.............Democracy deserves better....
Finally, the Tribune headline last year ran the proclamation 'LAWTON SELECTS POLICE CHIEF'....what does that tell you? In most municipalities the commission, council or elected board should have the good judgement and capability to make that selection as a collective body, NOT one staff member.....the 'staff' should have provided a 'short list' for commissioners to decide upon.......it's not rocket science and commissioners could easily review 'read ahead' packages just like reserve unit commanders do for promoting sergeants in their command......it CAN be done if we
have the will. IF.

#312 a month divided by how many hours of relective, critical-thinking, current events,reading studies or at least the executive summary, attending other advisory board mtgs, etc. 'or' just '22 minute commission meetings?' My dad didn't get 'squat' except per diem when he was a citizen-mayor and mayor/board mtgs typically two hours every two weeks, with discussion, debate, and then wrote column in local paper every two weeks....he also had a 9-5 job as an engineer, coached church basketball and challenged town staffers when a report wasn't 'right'......

Anonymous said...

RE: The salary of each Commissioner shall be $312 per month. The salary of the Mayor shall be $468 per month.

Refresh my memory on what they do for a living and how that living might affect the decisions they are making?

Treasure State Jew said...

Anon; You make a great point here. I am not going to make any accusations, but too many of our commissioners stand to personally benefit from commission decisions. Requiring the commission to be their only job (and fairly compensating them for it) would eliminate even the question of the appearance of impropriety.