Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Aftermath

Beginning in the lobby of the municipal building after Council's budget vote Monday night, everywhere I go, people are talking about recruiting candidates for City Council. On Tuesday, I heard it at two different awards ceremonies at my kids' school (parents and teachers), and from folks whose kids are long since grown and gone at a lunchtime meeting.

This morning, I heard the same thing at Rotary.

The seats that are up for election next June are those held by Abbatiello, Bradshaw, and Dunlap. I've heard that Bradshaw isn't planning to run again, but I haven't heard it from him, so take it for what it's worth -- not much. I've also heard that Abbatiello has changed his mind (having said before that he would not run again, and apparently now deciding that he will). Ditto the disclaimer.

But, rather than talk about changing people just now, I'd rather give some thought to changing a process: specifically, the City's budget process.

Having been through (several times) the sometimes tedious exercise of going through the school system budget line by line, in a public, televised meeting, I know it's a lot of work. I also know that it gives each school board member a much better understanding of exactly where the resources are allocated, and why some expenses rise at a higher rate than others. It also makes for a much more open and transparent process for the public, which is good. It gives us a chance to ask questions, and for the public to hear the answers to these questions.

City Council, in recent years, has delegated the process to a committee of three (Abbatiello, Mosby, and Golden). The deliberations take place in a small training room, usually in daytime meetings that are inconvenient for public attendance, and are not televised. Thus, when the public readings arrive in May, the appearance is that it's long since been settled.

Because all members of council bear responsibility for the budget and tax rate, I strongly believe that it would be a better process for all seven members to participate, and that there should be a televised work session where the entire budget is reviewed line by line. After all, they really only have two primary responsibilities: policy and finance.

Just like the school board.

In fairness, they do many things well: their packets are all online for citizen review, and the budgets are also posted on their website. The school board should do the same... it's one of those things that have been put off for lack of funding for the appropriate software and technical staff, but it needs to happen.

The thing that they do not do well lies in delegating one of their greatest responsibilities to a small group, and that needs to change. Before next year. And if the citizens demand it, they can certainly make it happen in just one vote.

Perhaps another needed change is in the strategic plan, which excludes any meaningful mention of education, but has a definite (in this case, negative) impact on education through the fiancial model -- but that's another day's topic.

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