Letters for Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Here’s the problem

• Public officials, focus

Here’s the problem

With reference to a county manager proposal, Charter Commission Chairman Jonathan Chun said, “What is the problem we are trying to solve? No one, in my mind, has said what the problem is.” (“County manager debate deferred,” A1, June 28).

Supporters of the proposal played into Chun’s confusion game by failing to cite the most compelling task facing the commission and to which it has paid zero attention: addressing the disconnect between the way the charter says the administration should presently function and the way it actually functions, and proposing a solution for the disconnect.

The disconnect arises from the fact that the administrative assistant has been designated as the day-to-day manager of the administration even though the charter does not authorize such an arrangement.

This makeshift and unauthorized arrangement is a response to the fact that since the charter was adopted 40 years ago, the size and complexity of government has increased about fivefold and the position of mayor has grown into two full-time jobs … the administrative and the ceremonial. The arrangement was put in place to relieve the mayor’s double load.

When the charter was adopted it was reasonable to assume that the mayor could comfortably handle both administrative and ceremonial duties. The assumption is no longer valid.

That the charter does not authorize the makeshift arrangement in which the administrative assistant is designated as the day-to-day manager of the administration is evident both from its definition of the mayor’s role as the executive head and direct supervisor of the administration and from the following facts:

• The charter does not list the AA as an officer of the county.

• The position was created primarily to have someone to act as mayor in the mayor’s absence, and serving that function is the only specific responsibility the charter assigns to the position.

• The position is a totally political one for which the charter requires no professional credentials. Like the mayor, the AA is required only to be a U.S. citizen, a resident voter for three years, and at least 30 years old.

When presented with these realities the last Charter Commission placed on the ballot in 2006 a “solution” proposed by the administration to change the title of administrative assistant to “Managing Director.” The voters rightly rejected this purely cosmetic change in the charter and left standing the question which the current commission has ignored even though it lies at the heart of their mandate: What changes in the charter are needed to correct the disconnect between the way the charter says the administration should function and the way it actually functions?

The problem now facing the voters is that the commission has done nothing to address and correct this systemic problem. It has stonewalled commissioner Walter Briant’s proposal for a county manager system but has taken no steps to offer the voters an alternative.

As for the “problem” a county manager system might solve: In such a system administrative responsibilities are assigned to a professional manager and ceremonial duties remain with the mayor, thus relieving the double load now carried by the mayor as well as providing professional leadership for the administration.

Horace Stoessel


Public officials, focus

I don’t know about everyone else, but as I understand it, anyone elected to public office is supposed to focus on that responsibility. I know they also have other interests that consume their time, but those other concerns are all supposed to be secondary to their job as a public representative.

Think of that word “focus.”

It pertains to the ability to maintain prolonged attention towards one item of interest at a time. When Ms. Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho answered questions about why she hastily left the last council meeting right after roll call to return to her office to take care of other matters, she obviously had the meaning of focus confused with multi-tasking. Her response (“Councilwoman: Call before making accusations,” Letters, June 29) also appeared rather smug as if her time were so much more important and valuable than those she represents. For her to say that she was privy to everything that went on at the meeting, through the closed circuit TV, only shows her ability to play the “Big Brother” scenario and spy on the meetings so she won’t have to rely on second-hand information. But it leaves her out of the loop as far as real communication goes. She can’t see the emotions on all the faces of those in the audience as they react to what is said. She also isn’t there to answer any questions, but instead stays safe in hiding, leaving her more honorable colleagues there in her stead. It would seem that any council member, in order to demonstrate real focus (there’s that word again) when it comes to doing their job, would be able to attend the regularly scheduled meetings and treat those meetings as one of the most important aspects of their position. They should all be there with prepared statements if needed or any other pertinent data that has to do with items on the agenda and be ready to answer any questions. That should be their focus (please don’t forget that word). You can probably remember back when they were campaigning for office how focused (yet again) they were on that, can’t you? Why don’t they attack the job, once they are elected, with the same vigor and resourcefulness, instead of making excuses all the time, as if that were perfectly OK?

I’m just just trying to imagine the look on my boss’s face if I were to call up and tell him “Oh, sorry, I can’t come into work today, I have to stay home and make some phone calls and check my e-mail.” How long do you think I would keep my job? Now I’m not saying that’s what Ms. Carvalho was doing, because what she did in her office isn’t the point. The real point is that her job was to be at that meeting and not doing anything else. Her response in the paper should have been apologetic, with a promise to do better in the future, not take offense to inquiries about her absence.

Jack Custer



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