Monday, October 09, 2006

Don't Squander Good Will

The administration that took over Jan. 1 received many concessions in its first several months.

The governing body granted residency waivers to top administrators, approved a new “confidential aide” position for the mayor and changed its historic meeting schedule. After Finance Director and former city administrator Norton Bonaparte left in March, the council permitted City Administrator Carlton McGee also to be acting director of Administration and Finance for more than the allowed 90 days.

By mid-year, the council’s good will seemed to be fraying a bit.

In June, council members probed costs and plans for the annual July 4th celebration but overcame hesitation to put redevelopment in the hands of the Union County Improvement Authority. In July, quibbles arose over last-minute appointments requested by the mayor and then-Council President Ray Blanco used his power to withdraw them, admonishing McGee to “get this administration in order.”

A week after confronting McGee, Blanco died of an apparent heart attack at the age of 50. Many people said Blanco’s intense desire to see the city succeed was his true legacy.

In August meetings, the council agreed to endorse several major redevelopment proposals, but in September appeared to be blindsided by fast-tracking of the process. Both the Planning Board and the council ended up holding special meetings on the plans.

McGee described a quick $12 million bond note issue that took place in September without prior public discussion, prompting council members to ask how it happened without the governing body being informed until after the fact.

A flood damage control ordinance also caused consternation when the council was asked to approve it with assurances that required Planning Board approvals would take place later.

A Sept. 23 emergency council meeting to vote on a redevelopment plan took place without public notice. The notice was published more than a week later.

Last week, Councilman Rashid Burney said the Historic Preservation Commission did not have enough members to make a quorum and asked the administration to submit nominees. Plaintalker notes that many of the previous appointments to new boards and commissions don’t add up to quorums.

Also last week, McGee took it upon himself to cancel a City Council budget meeting, even though only the council president has the right to cancel a meeting.

Surely the city does not need a throwback to the enmity between the council and administration that stalled redevelopment and much other progress in past administrations. But there is a limit to how far this administration can stretch its good will with the governing body. Late submissions, shortcuts and missteps will only force the council to take a stand against such disrespect of the governing body’s powers and responsibilities. It’s not just about personalities. It’s about checks and balances and the letter of the law on fiscal or land use decisions.

--Bernice Paglia


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