Kirsten Hytopoulos: City needs to get back community's trust

This is a pivotal election at a difficult time in our island’s history. The new council seated in 2010 will inherit a city facing significant challenges, and solutions will not be easy. And yet, there’s reason to be optimistic. The current confluence of events creates a perfect opportunity for real change at City Hall.

With our new form of government in its infancy, an influx of new councilpersons, the turning over of key management positions and the stark realities of city finances, 2010 can mark the beginning of a new era for island government.

Indeed our present circumstances demand that we elect a council willing to put all the city’s policies, procedures and plans on the table. It’s time to redefine how the city does business and to find ways to effectively address our community’s needs and further community goals even within the very real limitations of our anticipated revenues.

We must learn from the past. Historically our city government has appeared unwilling to take a critical look at itself. Despite a Benchmarking Study three years ago that found that the city was overstaffed, overpriced and lacking in leadership, neither the council nor administration made significant organizational changes or change direction.

Our community wants a professional city government that lives within its means and that reflects our community values and goals. That’s what the vote for a new form of government was about, and that’s what this council election must be about.

While we may never recoup what was spent in recent years, we can recoup the faith of the community in its city government. The new council must be willing to develop a new way of doing business that ensures that the errors of the past won’t be repeated and that remains true to the community’s vision for the future of the island.

We need to resize our city government to match our sustainable revenue. We need to look less to paid consultants and more to community volunteers. We need to focus more on crumbling roads and pipes across the island and less on downtown redevelopment.

As much as the city has been accused of spending more time planning than doing, the fact is that the city still does not have a coherent or holistic plan for how to achieve our community goals or even how to fund basic city services. While our Comprehensive Plan lays out our community values and goals, the city needs to create a strategic plan to map out how we will successfully implement them.

Our community wants the opportunity to be heard if we choose to participate in city government, but we also want to be able to immerse ourselves in our private lives without worrying that when we turn around we will find the city in distress or disorder, the face of our island radically changed or the small-town character we all value gone.

The council must increase the quality of its engagement with citizens at the same time that it increases the efficiency and effectiveness of its decision-making process. In setting the city’s priorities, the council must recommit to the priorities established by the community through our Comprehensive Plan and Community Values Surveys.

An essential factor in successfully reorganizing our city government will be the hiring of a city manager with proven expertise in turning around cities in crisis. The council must work in partnership with the manager to ensure that decisions reflect our community values, but the council must also give the manager the freedom to do his or her job as an experienced professional.

I am running for city council because I believe that it is time for a new era for island government. Over the last three years, I’ve worked with citizens and councilpersons for preservation of our island character, stewardship of our environment through consistent and fair enforcement, for fiscal responsibility and for a more efficient and effective government, most recently as a spokesperson for the council-manager campaign. I will continue to work for these goals together with the council and the city manager as we create a government that works for the whole community.

Like all of us, I value our small-town, rural character and strong sense of community. I will always work to ensure that our community’s vision for the island’s future is honored even as we make difficult decisions about how to resolve the many challenges we face.

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