SYSTEM FAILS WITHOUT TRANSPARENCY
May 9, 2017
Discussions about any aspect of any matter that could come to a vote someday before a government body must be held in public and the meeting properly announced well beforehand; additionally, so-called "serial meetings" of smaller groups on the same subject are prohibited as well.
Unfortunately, that has not always been the case and the problem seems to worsen when politicians do not get along so well: often the intention is to conceal from one another, it seems.
Televising live and recording meetings may actually have made matters worse, driving the real deliberations even more out of sight.
Candidates during elections often promise transparency, but fall short afterward: The Times calls upon all city and county leaders to fulfill campaign promises of transparency in government by following state 'Sunshine Laws' to the letter (click); our democratic system fails without it and special interests seize control.
BRING BACK THE FINANCIAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE
We are asked a lot lately about the contentious situation at city hall between mayor and city council and what's to be done about it; the situation is similar in some ways to 2008 when three new council members were elected -- but today we have a new mayor too which complicates matters significantly.
Would it be wise for the Board of Directors of a $60 million corporation to hire a CEO without suitable experience to run their company?
The answer of course is a resounding no -- stockholders would have none of it; but when it comes to city governments in Alabama, technically only a type of corporation as well, anyone may run for office and be elected regardless of background.
That is what happened last August when longshot, bookstore owner Karin Wilson, with no government experience at all, ran for mayor of Fairhope and actually won!; the same may be said for three novice council members.
The usual path to the top where experience is gained by years on the council or working within the city was discarded, for better or worse, by the voters -- and now we are all left to deal with the aftermath and quite frankly it has not been a pretty sight!.
Professional management of finances is essential to government and this is no time for amateur hour or on-the-job training -- so the Times' editorial staff highly recommends appointing new members to the city's Financial Advisory Committee, to assist the mayor and council with preparing yearly budgets.
The last FAC was appointed by the council in 2008 because they were dis-satisfied with former mayor Kant -- and met regularly for four years with city managers to navigate successfully through the Great Recession without having to lay off employees or cut services, unlike many other city's at that time.
They took the city from deficit spending to surpluses as well, no small fete; a Times reporter sat with them through many long hours of public meetings during the process, another plus for added transparency.
We know some of the committee's former members are still around, but there are numerous highly qualified retired CEOs, CPA's and others out in the community who would probably jump at the chance to volunteer to serve their community again, lend a hand in times of trouble at city hall as others before them did in 2009.
Last time mayor Kant selected some of the members, and the council the rest; this should not been seen as a slight to the newly-elected -- but the prudent thing to do on behalf of citizens during unusual circumstances.
CITY NEEDS A STRATEGIC PLAN
The mayor has just presented her budget proposal for 2017, belatedly, and the city council is currently reviewing it; but citizens may be alarmed to learn there is still no strategic plan for needed big-ticket capital projects.
What is the number one priority for spending? Is it addressing chronic drainage and erosion issues all over town? Traffic congestion? Utility upgrades? More recreation? Sidewalks? Schools? A Performing Arts Center? New city hall?
Right now we do not know, whatever is most politically popular gets the attention and tax dollars: often wants take precedence over needs.
A plan to fix the most-congested intersections in town for what seemed to be a bargain price of about $5 million is gathering dust on a shelf in city hall, for instance. (click)
There is a Strategic Planning Committee to figure it all out but that has not met for over four years; and an effort to come up with one as part of the Alabama Communities of Excellence program went down in flames in an almost laughable manner about two years ago when the city received the ACE certification, but curiously without ever producing a plan!
The new mayor and council have been on the job for almost six months now with not much to show for it: the people of Fairhope deserve better.
They need to put the horse before the cart for a change and address general needs, not just those of the many special interest groups out there: that is a prescription for chaos.
A long-range strategic plan for capital spending priorities is necessary, before any more budgets are approved.