Emotional CITCOM meeting proves productive
- The meeting began with happy feelings about the hiring of new police officers and the introduction of a new K9/handler team.
- It rolled routinely through several unanimous votes about such matters as filling vacancies in the Department of Public Services and the Finance Department, and took care of several appointments including rotating the Appointments Committee to the other side of The Table.
- The meeting ended with angry-to-sad feelings during discussion of the ongoing ethics saga, the highlight of which was the mayor's apology.
- Net result: one or more documents re the ethics investigation will be released. Until those documents are absorbed, it would be foolhardy to decide whether a venial or mortal sin has been committed by the allegedly offending commissioner.
For me, the ethics-focused emotions were too intense, too extreme, to immediately comment thoughtfully about, except to say that I can't believe that anyone seriously believes that strengthening a rule which was broken will dissuade that same person or anyone else from breaking the stronger rule.
Next week, we'll explore the overall, and overblown, ethics dialogue.
The human dimension at City Hall
NOTE; This article was written before the CITCOM meeting outlined above.
In common, the handful of Versagi Voice readers who found no value in reading about CITCOM problems in 2003 ignored the commonalities between then and now: matters like money/budgets, inter-departmental tensions, Administration-Commission relationships, and appropriate or questionable concern about residents and neighborhoods. Instead, those readers focused on individual elected and appointed individuals..
We have here a local version of the centuries-old nature versus nurture debate: Are individuals or the existing conditions more influential in determining events, whether we are discussing city hall or world history.
Certainly, each CITCOM has its two or three dominant individuals -- Pat Capello and Jim Rasor at our current Table. Tom Hallock and two of the women -- Ilene Lanfear and Jeanne Sarnacki In 2003. And names like Terry Drinkwine and Mike Andrzejak quickly come to mind as consistently powerful voices who occasionally were troublesome and irritating leaders. Simultaneously CITCOM watchers can rattle off the names of commissioners who "just sat there" taking their lead from their peers, meeting after meeting.
And certainly, personality affects an individual's approach to problems, but it is unwise to ignore the fact that the individual's choices are limited by existing conditions. Two examples:
In good economic times, Commissioners must choose between spend excessively, over-expanding government; approving wise and unwise benefits to public employees; temporarily cutting taxes, and the like. In leaner times, the choices become kicking the can down the road; playing with the line items in the city budget; reducing staff; or closing a fire station.
Surely, this or that Chief of Police or City Manager may please some and turn-off others. Sometimes, those personal dislikes are so obvious that observers know the traditional and appropriate tension between commissioners and the Administration isn't enough to account for some of the petty nit-picking from commissioners or delays coming from the Administration.
A hundred years ago, I was appointed editor of a weekly business newspaper. A former chemist, I had noticed and I was certain that I could correct the adversarial relationships between the Editorial and Sales departments. I had already formed good relationships with Sales during my several years in Editorial. It took only a few months to recognize that -- each acting on principle -- Editorial would always balk when urged to publish trash to attract or please an advertiser and Sales would always try to kill a story which might irritate an advertiser, even if the article served the weekly's readers.
Salesmen and writers came and went. When I left after 18 years, the individuals were cordial to friendly with each other, and they cooperated effectively when attending an international show, but the institutional Editorial-Sales tensions were still in-place.
In terms of evaluating city government, the point is that most institutional and traditional factors stay in place as newly elected and appointed officials come and go. So the choices the commissioners and mayor can make fall into predictable and limited patterns. That doesn't excuse such failures as repeatedly kicking the can down the road, but it helps us understand by so many residents make one of two polar decisions: (1) Things will get immediately better if we get rid of these guys and gals. And (2) It doesn't matter whom you elect. All politicians are the same.
This Human Dimension piece and the Readers Say exchange elsewhere on this page were written before the news broke about a commissioner threatening legal action against a resident who had stepped beyond questioning to leveling charges. And before the CITCOM meeting which took spend over an hour emotionally addressing the perceived ethics mess.
Frank Versagi is the editor of Versagi Voice.