Out of line? Not even close.
Last week’s disturbing debacle at the Bainbridge Island city council meeting — where several on the council browbeat City Manager Doug Schulze after his recommendation to reject a proposed contract to outsource the management of the city’s water system to an off-island contractor — prompted a bit of pushback.
The crisis at city hall started after Mayor Steve Bonkowski hijacked the council meeting and a majority of his colleagues on the dais refused to let Schulze speak and outline his many criticisms of the contract, or even defend himself against the wayward missives fired by some on the council.
Those elected officials, however, soon found themselves the target of spot-on criticism by the public and others on the city council for their disparaging remarks.
Those voices of reason, which tried to remind the council of their proper role in city government and warned against their eagerness to second-guess, undermine or redo the work of the city’s professional staff, were soon rebuffed by a few islanders who wholeheartedly support the idea of getting the city out of the water business.
Unfortunately, it seems a few of those Bainbridge citizens are as misguided as the council majority. They vociferously complained that Schulze had overstepped his bounds, and had marched onto the council’s turf by weighing in on a potential policy decision.
Sadly, such statements show that some islanders still don’t understand, or want to understand, the proper roles that are dictated by the council-manager form of government.
Simply put, the city manager was just doing his job when he offered a recommendation on the contract. Offering advice, reviewing contracts, highlighting the advantages or disadvantages of policies — those are all basic duties of a city manager.
But don’t take it from us. Here’s what the International City/County Management Association has to say about a city manager’s job, taken directly from a “frequently asked questions” publication put together by the association:
“Council members and residents count on the manager to provide complete and objective information about local operations, discuss the pros and cons of alternatives, and offer an assessment of the long-term consequences of their decisions.”
That’s exactly what Schulze did last week. And it’s what islanders and proponents of good government should expect.