A Tough Nut to Crack
The city administrator in Plainfield is supposed to be in charge of day-to-day operations, but all too often political whims of elected officials seem to have taken precedence over good governance. How likely is it that a no-nonsense city administrator might tell the mayor who appointed him, or the mayor's mentor for that matter, that a proposed activity was a waste of time and money? Or that a department head was not pulling his or her weight? And even if he did, would they listen?
With Marc Dashield's impending transition to Montclair township manager and another four-year mayoral term looming, the possibility exists for a better cabinet than the mixed lot the city has seen in the past four years. Some were clueless, some were most likely unqualified, some were onboard only for political reasons. None lived here, except for Norton Bonaparte, the former city administrator who was kept on as finance director in January 2006 and who left to become the first city manager of Topeka, Kans.
A good first step would be to rethink waiving residency requirements. The next step would be to set politics aside and listen to what a new city administrator makes of Plainfield, its strengths and weaknesses. Third, let the mayor and her mentor resolve not to leave top seats unfilled so that as in Dashield's case, the city administrator is not burdened with dual roles, especially in fiscal matters.
Several times in the last year, the line between the executive and legislative branches has become blurred. Dashield rightly took umbrage at a couple of these instances. A qualified candidate is not going to venture where the role of city administrator is not respected, communication is garbled and the ship of state keeps getting turned into an ill-advised luxury cruise. If stewardship of city resources has not been the watchword in the past, it must become so now and for the next four years and beyond.
Since January 2006, the number of citizens keeping an eye on City Hall dwindled at first, but has recently swelled. Still, what is apparent to citizens must also be acknowledged by elected and appointed officials if progress is to be made in improving city government and the delivery of services. All the citizen involvement in the world means nothing if the administration is unresponsive or dismissive.
Let's hope 2010 will bring a full complement of qualified cabinet members who will put Plainfield first and not just be part of the tangled political web where loyalty to power brokers is the primary demand.