Opinion

Time to end nonsensical power struggle

EDITOR'S NOTE: This online version corrects an earlier print version, which misquoted a source.

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There is a rule for surviving politics in a small community: Make it about the issue, not the person. Adherence to that simple maxim ensures that at the end of the day, regardless of which way the votes fall, everyone goes home friends and neighbors.

Unfortunately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to tell where issues end and personalities begin, as one watches the new city council and mayor at work. A time that should be dynamic with policy debates and initiatives of substance has instead fostered a petty turf war, leaving the council divided and, we dare say, the public embarrassed for all concerned.

The nadir, reported elsewhere in this issue, is a singularly demeaning proposal by Councilman Bill Knobloch that would reduce Mayor Darlene Kordonowy to a “speak when spoken to” role at city council meetings. That this proposal is a loser goes without saying. By law, the mayor is to preside at meetings, which our dictionary defines as “to be in a position of control or authority.” And certainly, voters mandated no change. Kordonowy said during her campaign that she would improve council meetings, establishing “frameworks for decision” by directing discussions; she earned the office by a huge margin.

Nor can we recall any council hopefuls campaigning that they planned to lever the balance of power between the city’s legislative and executive branches to their advantage. Yet with surprising candor, Knobloch has discussed elimination of the mayor’s office altogether, putting a change to a “council-manager” form of government – with a city manager appointed by the council – to voters. (A few thoughts are perhaps in order here: Even if voters could be wooed to support the issue at the polls, we seriously doubt that a sitting mayor can be unseated by those means. The change would take effect at the end of a mayoral term, long after the political passions of the day have settled.)

Some council members excuse these ongoing squabbles as the inevitable clash of “strong personalities,” while others have gone out of their way to avoid confronting the spats publicly as a matter of decorum. But the sour tone that has come to mark council and committee meetings – the abrasiveness, the curt treatment of staff members and others – can no longer be denied. And with the recent frank attempts by a minority of the council to curb the mayor’s authority altogether, it strikes as a watershed moment for this council and administration.

When a council member suggests bringing in a lawyer to resolve differences of opinion with the mayor – yet cannot identify a single issue of real substance in which they’ve been frustrated, a veto, a refusal to enact new city policy– it’s clear that perspective has been lost.

The problem with such a legalistic approach to problem-solving is that it reduces every disagreement to a question of who has “the rules” on their side. Why work toward consensus? Why bother with compromise, when you can just tell your opponent, “You aren’t to speak – and it says so right here.”

We’re not going to assign blame to individuals – we’ll stick with issues before personalities, and we’d like to believe that as a group, the council and mayor can find it in themselves to resolve their differences like adults. But it is apparent that most of these problems stem from the council’s recent insistence on “independence” from the administration.

Perhaps someone ought to remind council and administration alike that they are all part of the same city. Moreover, political power, influence and respect arise from doing one’s own job well, not from trying to diminish another.

It’s time to end this nonsense, before both legislature and administration are further demeaned.

Community Events, April 2014

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