Saturday, August 25, 2007

Vision after the fact

More reaction to my latest column, this time from Five Points Blog.

In his column in yesterday’s Freeman, James Wigderson puts forward this misconception that the City Administrator is some kind of overlord that has total control of the budget. He claims ”…the city will soon pick another unelected city administrator who will be responsible for formulating the city budget according to his or her philosophy without being accountable to the public.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Sure the administrator is in charge of preparing an initial budget but its up to the Common Council and Mayor to provide direction. If they want a zero percent increase in taxes, tell the administrator that is what you want. If he/she comes back with a budget that doesn’t meet that goal, don’t approve it. Send it back to the Administrator and tell them to cut things.

The mayor should work hand in hand with the administrator in establishing a budget and if he doesn’t it’s not the fault of the administrator or the position of administrator, it’s the fault of the Mayor. It sounds like Larry Nelson was very involved last year so I would assume he will continue to be involved. Every person in the City has an alderman that represents them and every alderman has a vote on the budget. That sounds like accountability to me. This is how it works in every single City that has an administrator or city manager and it is a good thing because a lot of Mayors don’t know the first thing about how to draft a budget. I would argue that there is a lot more wasteful spending in Cities where an elected Mayor drafts the budget than in Cities where an Administrator drafts it.
The problem with Jeff's argument is that the actual budget process has the formal input from the mayor and the aldermen at the end of the process. By then it's really too late. If there is any input beforehand, it's at the indulgence of the city administrator.

Far better for the elected officials to be responsible for establishing the policy vision at the beginning of the process, and the best way to ensure that is to make the administrator accountable to the elected officials, preferably the mayor.

As for the difference in who is more efficient in budgeting, I'd love to see the study. But Jeff should go back and read Payne's last budget which specifically stated the goal was to spend every last dime that he could. Finally, I cannot believe that in a city of 60,000+ we can't find someone competent to be mayor when they seem to be able to do so in smaller New Berlin. And I don't mean by competent someone I agree with. In fact, in last year's election for mayor we had at least three candidates (maybe four) including the current incumbent all capable of working with the department heads and a chief of staff to put together a budget.

We have a full-time mayor in this city. Let's use him for something other than celebrating the opening of Steak N' Shake and presiding over Common Council meetings.