It comes down to holding elected officials accountable. One councilmember in Bell claimed not to know his colleagues on the council were being paid so much money, and board members of CalPERS claimed they were not alerted to the Bell salary increases. To address this at the local level, maybe the answer is that local voters should demand moving to a "strong mayor" model, where the elected mayor is a full-time position overseeing staff. In cities like Bell and most in Orange County, mayors are part-time positions, and city managers become the chief administrators for city business. By moving to a strong-mayor model, voters can vote out bad chief administrators.
Transparency and full disclosure are a start, but it doesn't end there.This was written in early August.
As many residents know, Pepper Pike's form of government is called "strong mayor-weak council." I'd urge the people of Bell to check out the pros and cons of the four major variations on municipal government before they decide on how to allocate responsibility for the troubles between the structure, the elected, the residents and any other stakeholders involved (seems as though the state may have had some responsibility).
But this looking to the form of government to solve the problems spewing from those in it (something our mayor was involved with in regard to overhauling our County's government structure) is not new in terms of trying to figure out, how can we do better and what is at the source of the now coming to light problems, whether those problems are fiscal, management, supervisory, legal - however they might be categorized?
And so it is that I would urge the Bell folks who are most interested in changing their form of government to read, as a note of caution, this New York Times cover story, Recalls Become a Hazard for Mayors, on the alleged increase in the use of mayoral recalls. An excerpt from the article:
Recalls rarely get on the ballot, let alone succeed, but they are bringing the era of permanent, acrimonious campaigning to city halls. Tom Cochran, the executive director of the United States Conference of Mayors, said the rash of recent attempts had inspired him to start making a video to teach mayors about the risk of recall.
“I’m absolutely convinced that we’ve got more going on than before,” said Mr. Cochran, who attributed the increase to the dismal economy, and to the proliferation of blogs and social networking sites that make it easier for opponents to organize.
It is not an easy time to be a mayor. At city halls, deficits are not viewed as some far-off problem, as they often are at the federal level, but as gaping holes that must be filled at once by raising taxes or cutting services.The attribution of the increase to blogs and social networking sites is a red herring. The ability for people to communicate with one another enhances democracy. Any slam on using new tools to engage and communicate is a slam on democracy itself, unless Mr. Cochran had acknowledged that in fact democracy is a double-edged sword in terms of civic engagement, and be honest about that. Though seriously, if you get into public service and do not realize or accept that premise and consider, repeatedly, how to embrace whatever engagement you get, then you probably don't belong in public service in the first place.