Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Paving the way for the new government

The approval of the new charter was a big step in shaping Pensacola's future. The community expressed a collective hope that the future will be bright as well as progressive.

The charter that was ratified provides the general outlines of the government. It is the current council's job to take the next step and create a structure that establishes a government which reflects the wishes expressed through the vote on November 24th.

One of the most progressive elements in this new structure is the separation of powers and the creation of checks and balances, like those that exist in our federal government. This balance is not created to provide conflict but rather to ensure that decisions are given due consideration. The mayor, or the executive branch, provides leadership. The council, or legislative branch, is the deliberative body. In order to achieve the best potential of this structure, both branches must have sufficient strength to provide the necessary checks and balances.

The vision of the voters who eagerly embraced this new charter would be undermined if the new government results in a rubber-stamp council. Indeed, previous councils have been accused of being rubber stamps, and that is part of the impetus that led to this charter change. The citizens have been clear that they do not want that. Nor would a good strong mayor want a council of yea sayers who existed only to ratify his wishes. He would expect his ideas to be strong enough to weather debate and would welcome suggestions and changes that improve on his ideas.

If the City Council is to function effectively, however, the council needs access to reliable information. And this information needs to be independent of the mayor. With a separation of powers, the council should function autonomously.

This autonomy will require the council to employ an independent staff to provide information and efficient running of the legislative branch of the city government.

What would be the role of the council staff?
  • Setting council agendas
  • Researching issues
  • Staffing boards and commissions
We need to be careful to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy. The council staff would assume some duties currently performed by the city administration. Therefore, the staff should be created by reallocation of resources in the existing organization rather than building bureaucracy.

A council staff will provide the organizational structure to support appropriate checks and balances envisioned in this new charter. Under this structure, issues will get a full vetting by those whom the citizens have chosen to represent them.

I have submitted this proposal to the City Council with the intent to engender a spirit of cooperation and respect for both branches of government. As we take the next steps in establishing the organizational structure that will support the new charter, I believe it is important to embrace the goals of a separation of powers and checks and balance.

By working together the council and mayor can ensure that our city continues to function effectively while pushing forward initiatives that improve our community and build a better Pensacola.