Sunday, April 27, 2008

Towards a City Council Agenda

Now is a good time for the Plainfield City Council to play a stronger role in local government. Long time followers of our local government will agree that when the Council exerts its authority, it is usually to say no to proposals from the Mayor. A major city initiative originating from the Council, like the 15 year road reconstruction plan, is the exception to the rule.

When there is strong leadership from the executive branch, the agenda of legislators is generally to follow and support that agenda. That is how I felt during the administration of our late Mayor, Al McWilliams. I also felt that I needed to give the current Mayor, Sharon Robinson-Briggs, a chance to lead when she began her administration.

Now we are two and a half years into the Robinson -Briggs reign and I see a need for a stronger role for the Council. Plainfield could be better served by its government. The current administration is working very hard on redevelopment plans. But what about our other challenges: high taxes, public safety problems, uneven code enforcement, poor internal and external communications and strained relationships between government and the local business community. These are problems that must be addressed with the help of local government.

The Council needs to demand more accountability from the Mayor and her administration. Oversight is one of our critical legislative functions.

Towards a Mayor - Council Partnership
The agenda in Plainfield is controlled by the Mayor and/or the executive branch. Our city charter gives the Council power to approve or vote down almost every action of the Mayor and some call this a strong council-weak mayor form of municipal government. That ignores the simple reality that the Mayor has staff and the council has none.

A Mayor-Council partnership is crucial to the future of Plainfield. It has been a difficult objective to achieve due to the shifting sands of Plainfield politics. Our best example, in my opinion, was the McWilliams - City Council relationship at the beginning of his second term. We saw good results: downtown street scape, Park Madison development, improved performance in Public Works, tax collections and Municipal Court.

Some would say that the supportive Council of the last two years has been helpful and I agree, up to a point. The Mayor has been given virtually everything she has asked for. Now the Council has to demand results. One way to go is for all elected officials to agree to a set of measurable objectives for public safety, code enforcement, economic development and financial performance. The Council and Mayor took a stab at this five years ago. We had a retreat and reached consensus on priorities but did not follow through on measuring our progress.

Towards a Council Agenda
In order for the city to succeed, the Council needs to demand more results from the Mayor and her administration. We are at a point where the act of setting measurable objectives is even more important than objectives themselves. I am confident that elected officials, with a healthy dose of community input, will get the priorities right. But we need the built in accountability going forward.

The Council needs to go further than that though. In order to improve confidence in local government, the Council needs to enact legislation to make local government more open, transparent and user friendly for residents, business owners and potential investors. We can't count on the administration, or any administration in power, to give up control. The legislative body, the City Council, needs to step up on this front.

It may sound a contradiction but the best way for the Plainfield City Council to help our Mayor succeed is to challenge the performance of her administration and demand more accountability. That will require a change in approach for some Council members or a change on election day.


Anonymous said...

Great post Cory! I say: Let's go for change!

Anonymous said...

I think this is a very good agenda. Thanks for being a person who seeks collaboration and consesus as we try to move the city forward.

Anonymous said...

We need people who are not only well intentioned (which I believe all the council people are), but also have leadership and vision (which I believe is greatly lacking on the council).

I hope that come June 3rd, the people will vote for change. We need fresh thinking and ideas, and I hope the people of Plainfield will vote that way.

Anonymous said...

I do not agree with your statement that "the administration is working very hard on redevelopment." If they were, by now there would be a viable partnership with local business (Chamber of Commerce). Also, there would be a redevelopment plan that would would focus on the core area, Park Ave-south of 2nd Street to 7th Street. Tell me, why not? Your words, well meaning, are of little comfort when local government fails to embrace action steps that woud improve the quality of life for its citizens. Year after year government talks about improvement, but at the end of the day, it is the same old same old. The faces change but that's it. And now we are going to lose another institution.

Anonymous said...

Everyone seems to point fingers at the Mayor for the unnecessary use of two body guards with no specific reason or any possible threat. Why doesn't the council act responsibly and force the hand to have these two highly paid, trained staff return to the streets. Such a waste of taxpayer money.