Thursday, June 14, 2012

Are things looking Up?

At Tuesday's marathon commission meeting, commissioner Chervony pulled me aside and said with laughter in his voice but no mirth in his eyes words to this effect.  "Has hell frozen over?  I never thought I would see the day of you praising the mayor on your blog."   I replied somewhat defensively (and maybe pompously) that when people do the  right things, they deserve the  right credit.   

One good thing about writing a blog like this is that you get "do overs".  You get the chance to put out more fully what you meant and that's what I want to do today.  

In public life, business, social and certainly political, we should make our rational judgments on who to trust based on two things - our understanding of the reasoning presented and the effect of acting on the requested item.   Now that oversimplifies since all of these have significant smaller components - what is the history?  are all the relevant data presented?  are there other effects that action could have - but in broad terms, public trust comprises transparency and benefit.   

Our contentious commission meeting this week worked painfully towards those standards.  It fell short but it's a great start.  

Chervony spoke in detail about his complaints, frustrations and concerns with the city manager and supported his views with specific examples to illustrate his position.   Blumberg supported this view and added examples from the meeting itself where there were serious incomplete lacks in the information that the commission needed.  

This was true transparency.   The reasoning was laid out, there maybe should have been more public discussion with the city manager but questions were asked and answers sought.   Both commissioners then went to their request for action - based on what they have seen and presented, they believed the best course of action was to fire the city manager.  

The mayor disagreed with the conclusion that the city manager should be fired.  It was clear that she too was frustrated by the incomplete information and she did offer a valid alternative opinion on why the problem persists, but never denied the problem.  

What she concentrated on mostly was the second part of the trust equation - what would the effect of firing the city manager be on the city?   The mayor specifically stated her concerns that the budget would suffer, the city's reputation would take another strong hit and that the issues presented, while real, did not support the drastic action.   

This was true judgment.   Nowhere were accusations of hidden agendas tossed around.  the circumstances and effects were agreed at least in broad terms, and the mayor came to a different conclusion as to the right course of action.  

The motion to fire Dennis Kelly tied and failed to pass.   

The process was good. To see the three commissioners openly and transparently discussing a politically charged and sensitive subject with clarity and shared reasoning chips away at my cynicism.   It is a sign of their growing maturity.  

The commission has to take this attitude to the next step - finding compromise that lets things move forward.  The good news is that if people are transparent, the compromises tend to find themselves.  

Let me propose a "would have been better if" course of action.   

First of all, I agree with the mayor on retaining Kelly.  My own interactions with Kelly have been constructive and useful.  He gets credit in my book for that.  And I believe he has been spending his time clearing up two solid years of horrendous interim mismanagement of the city.  Kelly has the skills to do it but it takes time.  

More importantly, the budget matters and he has brought on a Finance Director who for the first time has published and explained a defensible summary of the city finances.  (There is a major omission on capital funding but I'll cover that in another post.)   We have to get that budget right.  It may be our last chance considering what is coming down in the public sector next year.  Kelly is our best bet.  

A compromise, a different course of action, would have been the best next step.  Commissioner Chervony should have proposed a vote of no confidence.  In our system, that serves as a stark warning to improve.  That should have contained specific, measurable, agreed outcomes to restore confidence, and have come with consequences if not achieved.   I have no doubt that it would have passed since three of the four present shared equal frustration.   

Overall, the commission gets an "A" this week for transparent discussion of difficult subjects and open discussion of disagreed effects.  

To get an "A" for the term, the commission now needs to work on how to move forward and I am starting to believe they can do that if they apply themselves.   

So, that's my long answer to Commissioner Chervony's "Did hell freeze over?"  Nah, no ice cubes in Hades but maybe a little bit like the first cool days in fall.   We can get there.  

Kevin Vericker
June 14, 2012


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