A learning curve
I witnessed two rather disorganized, maybe even tumultuous, Town Commission meetings, one in May and its follower in June. These were not well done. We didn’t look good in these outings. There is nothing like a big crowd in the chamber to bring out the worst in the politicians meeting there.
I opined a few weeks ago (“Potpourri,” May 4, 2012) in these pages that I had concluded after observing government in this town that the problem was caused mostly by the non-partisan nature of political office here. I said that the pols here come on the scene with no record, no ambitions, no skills. That we don’t pay them, I noted, demonstrates the real value of their efforts. The last two non-award winning outings showed me what I think might be the bigger reason for mediocre performance.
This is all in spite of the excellent training sessions sponsored by the Florida League of Cities. All Commissioners should attend these sessions.
You’ve seen some of this from me before; please bear with me. We have a city manager form of government in this town. This is as it was designed by our founders more than 55 years ago. It is enshrined in our Town Charter. I think that those wise men and women clearly understood the nature of our town — one to be run by part-time volunteers, assisted by a full-time professional staff. I noted in my earlier piece that it worked in the early days, maybe not now. I spoke with a neighbor here, an ex-commissioner. He reminded me that in past years folks looked upon public service here on boards and commissions as a duty to be shared, not an opportunity.
I’ll get to my conclusion on the current state of affairs, but first as more background.
City managers usually belong to their professional association, ICMA, the International City/County Management Association. “ICMA’s mission is to create excellence in local governance by developing and fostering professional local government management worldwide” according to the ICMA website. Further, “ICMA develops and advances professional local government management. ICMA provides member support; publications; data and information; peer and results-oriented assistance; and training and professional development to nearly 9,000 city, town, and county experts and other individuals and organizations throughout the world.” Longboat Key’s current Town Manager, David Bullock, is an ICMA Credentialed Manager. This is as we should expect.
So we have now as we have had in the past the professional manager in place. I would posit that the town manager would always be available to instruct, to teach the members of the elected body – here the Town Commission, as this body is constantly changing. This certainly worked through the tenure of the last long-serving town manager. It could work now. Does it? I suspect not.
If and when the elected body takes on a superior role, it might not accept the education and training readily available. Then the city/town manager retreats and takes all his/her direction from the body. This maybe results in a reversal of roles, changing the dynamic in the organization. Much of the value of the professional’s training and experience is lost.
Perhaps, just perhaps, this is what we see here in our town of late. To make this system of governance work we need a secure and almost independent town manager (and planning director). LBK’s recent history of multiple firings by the Town Commission does little to engender confidence and independence. This was obvious to most observers in those recent commission meetings. The town manager is letting the commission lead — maybe because it wants to.
There might just be a better way.