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?