With new year comes new faces, changes

If a measure of truth can be found in any joke, then a fitting example came Wednesday, when Nezam Tooloee unleashed a zinger in the waning moments of what should have been the final meeting of his tenure.

It was late. Grumpiness had set in. And the council, after several hours spent tending to other business – including saying goodbye to Tooloee and fellow outgoing councilors Bob Scales and Jim Llewellyn – was finally ready to attack the budget. Scales suggested they first spend five minutes clearing the vanilla items on the agenda, and in doing so set the stage for his colleague.

“This council never does anything in five minutes,” Tooloee said grinning.

Had it not been so close to the mark, the quip might have provoked more than muffled laughter among the few stragglers left at City Hall. As it was, perhaps no statement better encapsulates the legacy of this council, which following its failure to produce a budget Wednesday will meet at least twice more before installing three new members next month.

The new council will face big decisions about big projects that are familiar by now to most islanders. Big decisions require long debates. For those to happen, smaller decisions – the kind that can and should be resolved in five minutes – must be dealt with swiftly. For whatever reason, though, that hasn’t happened among this group of personalities. Past examples are too plentiful to enumerate here, but the surest proof lies in a jumbo-sized stocking full of unresolved budget decisions, into which leaders will be digging at a time when their energies ought to be directed toward the holidays. Instead, they must rush through their most important task as public servants.

It’s hardly worth trying to assign blame to any individual, be they councilors, the mayor or city staff. Their failures can be shared collectively. And to be fair, we should note that city government faces the impossible task of having to deliver with minimal resources a long list of projects and services, all under the watch of a highly educated, rarely abashed group of constituents. But no government ever has enough time, money or manpower to do everything its constituents demand. That means decisions – not consensus – must be reached. And priorities must be firmly established so that each decision is given its proper weight and airing in the public forum. City leaders are smart enough to know that; they just haven’t been able to avoid the missteps that have continually led them into turmoil.

Thus the need for change, in the form of new councilors, a new city administrator, and a biennial budget process that should have a favorable impact on efficiency. The personnel changes alone should be sweeping enough to tell whether the problems facing the city are systemic, or if they simply came from the mix of personalities that have been in play.

Tooloee, for being so quotable over the years, deserves the last word:

“Time will tell.”

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