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Prop 401: Likely Going Down for the Wrong Reason

I attended one meeting last week where Proposition 401 was discussed. Many people in the audience were angry about the pay hikes for council members. I think that a pay hike for council members would be a good thing. Despite protestations that the words “full time” are not included in the new charter language, a salary more in line with full time professional work makes it more likely that we have council members that don’t have to count on outside salaries and give the job the attention it needs. Still, I’d think it would be a stronger argument if we included a ban on outside work such as we do with some other elected positions.

Despite the necessity of the pay hikes, this provision will likely be the reason 401 fails at the polls. Which is too bad, because there are much better reasons to vote it down.

The proponents of 401 have been handing out a “matrix” (insert Neo reference here) that details who can hire and fire various city officials under the charter changes. Interestingly, they neglected to say who can hire and fire them now. I’ve gone ahead and added this information to their matrix, and uploaded it for your perusal.

It’s funny that the two “superintendent” positions, which have much more minor roles now than when the charter was written (one actually doesn’t exist anymore), are addressed in the matrix but three of the biggest and most important departments, Water, Transportation and Environmental Services, are left off of the chart and merely grouped as “other departments.”

Interestingly, all three of these have some accountability to mayor and council now since they are involved in the process of hiring and firing. Under their new system, these positions would be entirely under the unelected city manager. This is the biggest problem with this: we are taking a great deal of control away from elected officials. Yes, the city manager can be hired or fired by the council, but remember that firing the city manager would be even more difficult if he or she is given more power.

Yes, we don’t like our politicians, so, some might say, who cares if they don’t get to hire and fire bureaucrats? The trouble is that this takes away the ability for these people to be accountable to us. Yeah, maybe you think that the council in general is feckless or your council member in particular is a bozo, but they also have to face the public, whether it’s campaigning, having an office in ward they represent or being at public meetings. This just doesn’t happen for the city manager. Only a handful of hyper-engaged citizens can name the city manager, and even fewer have met him. Would we rather our high level bureaucrats be accountable to people that are accountable to us, or to someone that we have no access to?

3 Comments

  1. Tutije wrote:

    It’s a bit of a grab bag.

    You have the usual groundswell anger at the politicians making a living, so you get the rich “doing this as a hobby” in office because any pay raise that might lure blue collar or low level white collar into office was shot down at the polls.

    Not a new development at all, it’s been going on for decades and has nothing to do with the new rage for tea-bagging in public. So, you get the same old-same old and everyone but a few leave the polling stations happy.

    As for accountability, you have shown a great matrix. I like it, very informative.

    As far as concerning John Q. Public, it’s like the Brezhnev Era in the USSR: as long as there are no problems, there are no problems. Once there is a problem, the screaming, ranting and raving then begins.

    Sunday, September 26, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink
  2. Pamela wrote:

    Good post. I agree…

    I’m surprised that the Tea Baggers haven’t been more vocal about 401 being “big government,” since it gives more power to the bureaucrats, and makes government *less* accountable, while increasing the cost. Hey, Tea Baggers, wake up!

    Monday, September 27, 2010 at 9:59 am | Permalink
  3. Highly Engaged Citizen wrote:

    Prop. 401 is a schmorgasboard, some part of which is likely to appeal to anyone. I personally like the move away from staggered election cycles, and am among a probable majority of Tucsonans who would vote for this individually if given the choice.

    But I wasn’t given the choice, and maybe “schmorgasboard” is the wrong metaphor. Prop. 401 is less the experience of a buffet than that of a six-year-old at the dinner table: if you want dessert, eat your broccoli—you’re not allowed to pick and choose.

    Voters don’t typically react well to being treated like they’re six, and the sort of citizen keen to ratchet council members’ salaries up an immediate 155%, at the expense of some general fund item to be named later, might not be so nuts about signing away some of that council member’s authority in exchange for the privilege.

    County Recorder F. Ann Rodriguez, speaking from the audience at a town hall earlier this summer, put it plainly: voters are smart enough to decide for themselves what’s good, and what’s not, about these proposals. So let them.

    That’s not what happened, of course; trusting voters is in so many ways the opposite of what Prop. 401 is about. Voters are understandably skeptical about just how much “good government” a naked 155% pay raise would really buy. The lie that Prop. 401 creates a “full-time council” is just that: a lie. (If you cut the 155% increase of $37,280 in half and gave them a 77.5% increase of $18,640 instead, would that give you a “3/4-time council?”)

    The Southern Arizona Leadership Council, the group responsible for 401′s creation and the intensive lobbying campaign that spawned the City Council’s reluctant 4-3 referendum of it to November’s ballot, doesn’t exactly have a history of deference to the City of Tucson’s voters. The SALC’s membership aims at diversity, but it’s ultimately representative of big industry—homebuilders, car dealers, banks, etc—those who’ve profited the most from the sprawling suburban growth of Pima County. As such, the SALC’s membership doesn’t look much like the city’s electorate, and it tends not to want the same things. Setting aside all the rhetoric about prosperity and economic growth, the SALC stands to gain nothing by strengthening city government, or its ability to serve the needs of its voters.

    If anything, Prop. 401—and the SALC in general—demonstrates contempt for the city and those who vote in its elections. It treats voters like they’re stupid, like they don’t know what’s good for them, like city’s financial struggles are the result of a system that puts too much trust in elected officials and the citizens who elect them.

    Beneath its carnival-quality facade, Prop. 401 essentially tells voters “we don’t like you, and we don’t trust you.”

    Monday, September 27, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink