Tuesday January 23, 2007

Strong mayor: vote NO

For the reasons mentioned previously, I’ve come to realize that the Strong Mayor proposal is a BAD IDEA. Read here and here, or just consider: under the proposal, the department heads serve at the mayor’s pleasure. The department heads decide who gets city contracts. The people who want the contracts make campaign contributions to the mayor. The current system is broken and corrupt, but the path to corruption under the proposed system is much shorter. The system needs to be fixed, but let’s not do, as mkh says, “gee, this frying pan’s hot . . . I wonder if the fire will be any cooler.”

Right now, this measure is on its way to passing. If it does, we’ll be in for bigger trouble then we’re in now. So, though our friends at EoM will disagree, it’s important for you to vote, and vote no.

See also: Strong mayor debate.

Update: I just voted. The guy told me I was the second person there in the first hour. Depressing.

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  1. NicFitKid    Tue Jan 23, 01:50 AM #  

    I’ll be voting YES on the strong mayor proposal. All the concerns over corrupted department heads are moot, in my opinion. That situation already exists, through the various machinations of the commissioners over the manager and the departments he supposedly controls (ha!). What we have right now is an incomprehensible mess, and that’s the way most of the commissioners like it. As long as they can deflect blame to their whipping boy manager, we’ll never be able to hold them accountable. Besides, why should a commish I can’t vote for from a district I don’t live in have sway over a countywide department. Put that responsibility on the shoulders of a county mayor elected by all county residents, and then we have a chance to force accountability.

    Besides, just go check the campaign contributions for all the anti-strong mayor PACs, it’s chock full of all the same players that back the most corrupted commissioners. This swampy payola ecosystem needs to be drained, or county government will never have a chance to get better.

  2. alesh    Tue Jan 23, 06:59 AM #  

    What we have right now is an incomprehensible mess

    Yes. And while this proposal dangles the tantalizing promise of a comprehensible mess, don’t believe it — this is 1/13 as complicated on one end, but a hundred times more hidden and insidious on the other, because the corruption need not involve anyone picking up the phone to call a theoretical department head (there are 66, btw!) to make a request — all the nefariousness takes place within the individual’s brain (‘i know so-and-so is “friends” with the mayor . . .’).

    The swampy ecosystem DOES need to be drained, but I don’t think this will drain it. Have you read the Putney piece? (the second “here” link) He/Katy Sorenson suggest a better path. Yes, it’ll require a new set of signatures, and a new ballot initiative. So be it.

  3. KH    Tue Jan 23, 08:00 AM #  

    If there were an option to vote “HELL NO”, that’s the one I’d pick.

    There are so many many ways for the strong mayor proposal to go wrong; what’s incomprehensible is that anyone thinks it will not dissolve into an ego position.

    Democracy functions best when responsibilites are divided. Corruption thrives under cadres with concentrated power. You may not like the commission, but that doesn’t mean you’ll like the strong mayor any better.

    Strong mayor: HELL NO.

  4. NicFitKid    Tue Jan 23, 08:06 AM #  

    Charter reform sounds great, and I agree it should be a long term goal, but we both know it’s not going to happen anytime soon. We need to smash the iron triangle of commissioners, lobbyists, and contributors (rock miners, developers, etc.) that currently hold the real power at the expense of the general public. It’s easy for big money and machine politics to sway low turnout elections for single-member commission districts. However, a county wide election can sometimes overwhelm the capabilities of the usual contributors, as Alvarez’s campaign proved when he won office despite being financially out-gunned.

    Plus, when things go wrong, a mayor directly responsible for departments can’t dodge the fallout of a major scandal. Take the public housing scandal, for example. Can you think of any elected official that took a political hit on that one, a body blow that cripples their future political ambitions? Yeah, me neither. The immediate aftermath involved a lot of finger pointing at the manager, who serves at the pleasure of the commission. He’s their firewall against accountability. A strong mayor wouldn’t have that.

    A strong mayor system isn’t perfect, and is just as vulnerable to a thoroughly corrupted politician as just about any governmental system is, but it’s a start. As an added bonus, it disrupts the current patronage networks and throws in a little creative chaos for all the crooks in this county to flail around in for a while (make them work for it at least!). It may give us the political opening we need for something better, like the charter reform you want. The status quo is irredeemable, so why fight to preserve it? Let’s roll the dice and go with something new.

  5. alesh    Tue Jan 23, 08:22 AM #  

    I think, as do Putney and Lewis, that actually the strong mayor is almost forced into corruption, can in effect be passively corrupt by just dropping hints w/r/t whom he likes, to the city managers.

    “Hey, the Solid Waste guy just got sacked. I wonder why. Better not piss off the big guy, now who would he prefer that I give this million dollar contract to?”

    To avoid this sort of thinking, a SM would have to give regular speeches to his department heads assuring them they should assign contracts without regard to his political allegiances. Any why the hell would he do that? There’s no corruption to uncover, because it’s all in the staffer’s head!

    Can you think of any elected official that took a political hit on that one, a body blow that cripples their future political ambitions?

    Yeah, but I’m thinking of GWB. Here’s a guy who made some of the worst mistakes any president has ever made and got re-elected. Why? Just enough sweet-talk to smooth it over, just enough threats. The thing is that there is a level of corruption/scandal that the public is willing to tolerate from a strong, charismatic leader, especially if that scandal comes anywhere but at the very end of the term.

    Look, I was a proponent of the “let’s roll the dice and go with something new” view, but upon serious reflection I felt compelled to abandon it.

    Maybe the charter reform involves some version of a strong mayor, but not this version.

  6. NicFitKid    Tue Jan 23, 08:25 AM #  

    KH~ Democracy functions best when responsibilites are divided. Corruption thrives under cadres with concentrated power.

    I don’t think county government could get any more divided (some would say balkanized) than it is now, but nonetheless the corruption, patronage networks, and rent-seeking is through the roof. So much for the panacea of divided government.

    That’s why I don’t agree with the “vote no” arguments; too much stock is put into hypotheticals and lofty proposals for a perfect, incorruptible system. Look at this county’s history, look at the empirical evidence, hell, look at the campaign and PAC financial reports. Smash it now while we have the chance, this kinds of vote doesn’t happen all that often. We can work our way through the pieces later.

    County government’s already so fucked up, there’s really nothing about a strong mayor system that can scare me, so don’t bother.

    Anyways, gotta go, off to the polls!

  7. NicFitKid    Tue Jan 23, 08:34 AM #  

    Alesh~ Yeah, but I’m thinking of GWB. Here’s a guy who made some of the worst mistakes any president has ever made and got re-elected.

    Enough with dubya already! The county mayor doesn’t have access to Army brigade combat teams, Navy carrier battle groups, Marine expeditionary units, or nuclear fucking weapons. Comparing the strong mayor proposal to our current imperial presidency is like comparing a sparkler to an EGBU-28. One them will leave you with a burn and a band-aid, the other will obliterate you AND your apartment building.

  8. alesh    Tue Jan 23, 08:37 AM #  

    The anti-analogy works from the other side too, dude: The president fucked up whole parts of the WORLD for decades and still got re-elected, and you think a little misappropriation of funds is going to get a strong charismatic mayor (think Jeb Bush!) tossed out!?

  9. Tere    Tue Jan 23, 09:00 AM #  

    I’m still torn on this issue. On the one hand, the majority (though not all) of the Commission is corrupt, or incompetent, or useless, or all three. For me, to vote yes would send a message that I’m not happy with their job and the mess they’ve created and perpetuated, nor with their utter disregard for the residents of this county.

    On the other hand, I think the strong mayor proposal as it stands is flawed and in need of some changes that would make it less corruption-ready. So if I vote no, I would do it only because of that, with the hope that the county would still undergo some kind of reform.

    Of course, no one will know the message or intent behind my vote, since it’s not exactly an essay question. So I can’t decide which way to go, and I have a few hours to figure it out.

  10. Alex    Tue Jan 23, 09:33 AM #  

    Guys, if the charter needs reform, voting for the staus quo is exactly the worst message to say. “Why,” the commissioners said “they voted for us, they must love us!” Shades of Dubya again, and his “mandate”. As much as I LOVE Kathy Sorenson, she knows she doesn’t have the pull or the votes to force reform on her colleagues.

    So I voted yes this morning. Buh bye county commission.

  11. NicFitKid    Tue Jan 23, 09:43 AM #  

    Well, Alesh, I’m back from the polls, so you’ll have to direct your persuasion at Tere and the other undecideds.

    You’re right about the turnout, I was the only one in there! Hope the evening sees more traffic.

  12. Robert    Tue Jan 23, 09:52 AM #  

    I’m voting YES as well.

    Alesh, I see your points. To me, it boils down to accountability, it’s really that simple.

    NicFitKid’s example of the housing scandal is exhibit A as to why we need to vote YES. Has anyone been held ultimately accountable? No. Should there be? YES! As voters and citizens, we deserve nothing less.

    Reforms can be made afterwards, but we need to start with a base that puts the mayor in charge and accountable.

  13. Carlos Alvarez    Tue Jan 23, 10:37 AM #  

    And you don’t think the department heads are not already wondering which contracts they have to give to friends of the commissioners? You cannot legislate morality. At the end of the day, the mayor remains the lone county official elected county wide and accountable to everyone. You should see all the letters and emails I get from people demanding I take action for all the scandals and crap that goes on at 111 NW 1 Street. Yet if I want to fire the manager for incompetence, I have to make sure I have nine votes on the commission to make it happen. And what happens when an unethical and morally bankrupt department director like former housing agency head Rene Rodriguez doles out county funds to favored developers? He gets a plaque for all his loyal years of service from the county commission. The simple fact is that even if I get releected for another four years, I’m done after two terms. Same goes with the next guy that comes after me. And guess what? The media is going to be all over me like a horny teenage boy out on his first date any time a department director gets canned or does something to appease me. County government has operated the same way for the past 50 years and look at where it has gotten us: endless tract development, poisonous benzene in our water, no place to house thousands of residents living below the poverty rate, a third-rate airport with a bottomless construction budget. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Now grow a pair and vote yes.

  14. mkh    Tue Jan 23, 11:51 AM #  

    I took advantage of early voting to say NO on Saturday.

  15. nonee moose    Tue Jan 23, 03:47 PM #  

    Voted YES, for reasons I have previously stated. Believe me when I tell you, it cannot get worse. This may not be the answer to corruption generally, but I tend to look at it more like a chess game, where moves are not all offensive, but rather some are tactical.

    This is an opportunity, as NFK said, to break the Commission’s stranglehold over the departments and the manager. Thirteen can play “hide-the-ball” a lot easier than one. Can you ever take the ball away? Perhaps that’s not the point… perhaps it is enough just to know who has it.

  16. alesh    Tue Jan 23, 09:25 PM #  

    Yes. No word from the herald yet, but the response hear, along with early predictions, seems to indicate that the measure probably passed. Just as well, I suppose. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

    Note that the problem HAS BEEN corruption and scandals being uncovered very so often. The corruption under the new system will have a much smaller likelihood of being discovered.

    But the commission deserves it, for fighting dirty against the measure if nothing else.

  17. nonee moose    Wed Jan 24, 08:25 AM #  

    Alesh, I don’t understand why you think there is any relation between the strong mayor form and the ability to discover corruption.