CITY COUNCIL SHOULD REORGANIZE TO MANAGE OUR TAX DOLLARS BETTER

S. David Worhatch Published:

Given that we are barely two weeks into the new fiscal year in Hudson, I believe it is appropriate for council members to consider ways to organize themselves to oversee the city's operations and budget in ways that would rely less on the "committee of the whole" approach they now take at workshop sessions and during regular and special meetings.

If one goes to a City Council meeting and really tries to follow what's going on, the self-evident approach of MOST of the members comes across ... they view their roles pretty much as honorary members of a board of trustees and defer to the unelected managers of the city on decision after decision.

Local government must be more "hands-on" than that. The city's residents and taxpayers deserve more. And in a city that has as many qualified, talented people as Hudson, Ohio, has, it would be a shame to squander our greatest resources. Surely, we should be able to make better use of the experience and talents each elected official brings to the table here.

I believe the alternative organization approach I advocate would give Hudson's residents and taxpayers more confidence that their elected representatives are making informed judgments each time it comes to shaping public policy here and managing the city's finances as prudently as possible. The details of the recommendations contained in my three-page report offered to City Council at its January 16, 2013, meeting are digested below.

At a time when City Council must consider running deficits and dealing with the realities of a full-time workforce that is 95% larger than it was when township and village merged in 1994 that pays its employees FIVE TIMES a much as back then, surely the thought must have crossed the mind of at least one council member that this city's elected leaders may need to take a more hands-on approach to local government in 2013.

Let's hope my recommendations at least encourage a couple of council members to start a dialog about changing the current way they conduct the people's business in this city!

Otherwise, won't we just risk leaving this city's future future course to the mercies of whatever direction the unelected managers of the municipality want to steer this ship ... regardless of how much it winds up costing us in the end and how many important public improvement projects and programs have to be jettisoned just to meet the billowing payroll each month?

I urge you and every member of City Council to give serious consideration to both the concept I advocate and my specific recommendations for reorganization that appear at the end of the three-page report that accompanies my cover letter to you.

S. David Worhatch

Hudson, Ohio

MY THREE-PAGE REPORT TO CITY COUNCIL:

I strongly suggest that City Council consider reorganizing this year so its members may take a more active role in shaping the city’s policies and framing future discussions over the budget for 2014 and beyond.

I have seen first-hand the “committee of the whole” approach on display at work-shops and during Council meetings. I’m not so sure the taxpayers of Hudson are being served well by that process.

Shouldn’t the members of City Council act less like honorary members of a board of trustees and more like office holders elected to serve as stewards of the public’s treasury?

The “committee of the whole” approach diffuses responsibility and leaves the elected representatives of Hudson’s citizens largely at the mercy of the City Manager and his or her department heads for information and making decisions about the future course of our city as public policy is shaped. This process does not encourage any individual member of Council to take an in-depth look at how each department spends the city’s resources, or pro-poses to meet the citizens’ needs, or might capitalize on reorganization opportunities for the sake of efficiency. Instead, as I observed during the course of the meetings respecting the 2013 budget and the five-year plan, the unelected managers of the city’s operations enjoy a level of deference that makes them virtually immune to any expectations of greater effi-ciency or innovativeness that might come if they were subjected to more in-depth scrutiny.

In order to act as stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars, elected officials need to immerse themselves in the operations of each department. Given the limits of our Council-Manager form of government, however, it is impractical for each of the Council’s seven members to become an “expert” in every area of the city’s operations. So I recommend an approach closer to one that worked well when I served as a member of the Hudson Township Board of Trustees before merger ... allocate the various nerve centers for the city’s operations among Council members and expect each member to become the chief advocate, champion, or point person for each operation for which he or she is assigned liaison responsibilities.

Of course, given our form of government before merger, the role of the Township Trustee was quite different from that of a member of City Council. We were administrators as well as legislators, so we had to be more “hands-on” in our approach. I am not advocat-ing anything of the sort in sharing these thoughts with you. Instead, I think that each mem-ber of City Council would benefit from knowing that the operations of each department in the city are subject to the periodic in-depth scrutiny of a councilmanic colleague. Far from telling a department head (or the City Manager, for that matter) how he or she should do his or her job, the liaison role I advocate would make it more possible for all members of City Council to make even better decisions in allocating limited resources to meet the short- and long-term needs of the citizens of Hudson, Ohio.

Most cities either rely on an elected executive officer to discharge this function in the main or provide for reasonable compensation of its elected council members and expect them to devote a great deal of time to these sorts of tasks. We don’t have such a form of government. Our Mayor is more of a figurehead as he presides over Council meetings and otherwise discharges the limited duties assigned to him by state law and the city’s charter. So it would seem to fall on the shoulders of the seven people elected to discharge legislative powers in our city to make sure they are always on top of what is happening in each depart-ment and with every taxpayer dollar spent.

It simply is not practical to expect that each one of our “volunteer” legislators earning just $10.00 a month would take the time to become immersed in the operations of each and every one of our city’s departments. But it should not be impractical to expect that each member of City Council, upon election, would take a specific interest in certain assigned operations of the city so that each other member of City Council will have the benefit of his or her in-depth understanding of the workings of each such operation. The dividends to be paid with this approach would be enormous when it comes to making better-informed short- and long-term plans, determining appropriate staffing levels, allocating resources to fund projects of the greatest needs, serving the highest interests of the city, and shaping public policy through legislative, regulatory, and administrative initiatives and reforms. The City Manager and his or her staff should not have a monopoly on such information.

Current members of City Council might argue that they already have all the informa-tion they “need” in order to make sound decisions. But has anyone spent any significant time really digging into any individual department’s operations to confirm that we are now doing the best we can do and that there are no opportunities for greater operational effi-ciency? And how can City Council truly evaluate the City Manager’s performance each year without conducting some form of “job audit” to make sure he or she has not failed to take advantage of all reasonable prospects for doing more with less or avoiding the expendi-ture of taxpayer dollars when more efficient options are possible?

What follows, then, is my suggestion for how to organize the proposed councilmanic liaison duties among the city’s various nerve centers. Whether it’s by adopting the proposal I advocate or some other, I urge City Council to abandon its current “committee of the whole” process in favor of some other approach that will offer Hudson’s taxpayers greater assurance that its elected officers are really on top of matters when it comes to making and carrying out public policy in as efficient a manner as possible.

SUGGESTED GROUPINGS FOR COUNCILMANIC LIAISON ASSIGNMENTS (Tracking the Current Organization Reflected in the Approved 2013 Budget):

President of Council:

City Council and Clerk (and making the appointments below); City Solicitor; Administration; County Health District;

Hudson Municipal Cemeteries; and Information Services

Council Member A:

Police Department; Fleet Maintenance and Repair

Council Member B:

Fire Department; Emergency Medical Services Department

NOTE: Ideally, Council Members A and B would work in tandem to coordinate all safety forces issues.

Council Member C:

Community Development (also Planning Commission); Street Trees and Rights of Way; Economic Development

NOTE: Council Member C ideally would be familiar with the city’s land use regulations.

Council Member D:

Finance Department (including all budget-related tasks); Hudson Cable Television

NOTE: Council Member D ideally would have a background in accounting, budgeting, auditing, and/or revenue generation and know his or her way around financial statements and footnotes.

Council Member E:

Engineering Department; Public Works; Service Department; Storm Water; Water Resources Division

NOTE: Council Member E preferably would have some background in engineering.

Council Member F:

Public Properties; Hudson Parks; Ellsworth Meadows Golf Club; Hudson Public Power Division

NOTE: Council Member F ideally would be passionate about conservation and capitalizing on the city’s natural resources for public use and recreation.

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