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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Changing Toledo City Council -- Again!

There’s a lot of talk within the Toledo community and amongst some of the city council members of changing the size of Toledo city council. It seems some folks think a 12-member council is too large. At the present time, Toledo’s city council consists of six district and six at-large representatives. Unless I am mistaken, a couple of the councilman and several vocal citizens at-large are advocating a reduction in the number of elected at-large council representatives from six to three. Apparently some people think that the at-large representatives mostly come from certain sections of the community and do not properly represent the entire community thereby diminishing the representation of other sections of the community.

While I do not necessarily advocate a 12-member council size, I do have some thoughts related to the “rationale” used by the advocates of a smaller size city council.

Why does anyone think that a 12-member council is too large? It seems to me that the greater number of elected representatives to council provides for greater opportunity of citizen input and increased governmental accountability and responsiveness. I’ve heard that some of the advocates of a smaller council also put forth the argument that a smaller council will result in cost savings. Give me a break. How much of a savings? What percentage of the entire city budget would be the result of a smaller size city council? Is it really worth the resultant decrease in democratic representation and citizen voice? Think about it. With the smaller number of elected representatives comes the result of concentrating power in fewer people. Are people really desirous of that? Are people really willing to have fewer people exercise more power over them?

For those people who advocate a smaller number of at-large council representatives thinking that it would address their concern of at-large representatives coming mostly from certain areas of the city to the detriment of representation from other sections of the community, I have a simple question. How does decreasing the number of at-large representatives truly address those concerns except in terms of the quantity of the water-down representation from those areas or sections of the community allegedly adversely affected by the current system? While a decrease in at-large elected representatives may result is less over-representation by certain areas, it does not eliminate the "perceived" injustices or disparity as related to areas alleged to be under-represented or overpowered by those from the other areas of the city.

Back before the late 1960s, Toledo City government consisted of an all at-large elected city council that in turn elected a mayor from amongst their own, Then, a change took place that allowed for the direct election of a mayor. The mayor nominated a city manager that had to be confirmed by a vote of the council. Whenever there was a “problem,” all the parties pointed fingers to the other parties assigning blame and responsibility. It was a vicious political circle of “blame the manager” and “blame the Mayor” and “blame the council” with no one taking responsibility. It didn’t seem to matter that the manager served at the pleasure of the mayor and council; and, council often would state the mayor appointed the manager. Whenever the citizens were vocal in their displeasure, the mayor and council would point the finger of blame at the manager and the manager would fault council. Responsiveness, accountability, and responsibility were evasive whenever it served the pleasure of City Hall.

Quite a few years ago, I was an active participant and an early committee member of the citizen effort that eventually resulted in the change of city government. Incidentally, there was more than one attempt and there was more than one group or committee that transcended over several years. Those of us involved at the time came from across the wide spectrum of the community. Many different perspectives and approaches were put forth and discussed seemingly ad nauseum until compromises were reached that most of the "players" could accept as necessary in order to bring about change.

The end result changed the composition of Toledo City Council from the smaller all at-large council to a larger council that is the present combination of at-large and district representatives. It also eliminated the council-manager form of municipal government to the strong mayor form of city government. In a nutshell but by no means all comprehensive, the underlying rationale for the district representation was to allow for more responsiveness and the underlying rationale for a strong mayor was responsibility while allowing the entire city government to be more accountable. Oh, the real reason to keep some at-large representatives on Toledo City Council was purely political; some folks simply did not want to give up power.

Flash forward to the issue of the size and composition of Toledo City Council today. I suggest as I did so many years ago that Toledo City Council be composed of nine representatives all of whom are elected from geographical districts. District representation is the way to go. The United States Supreme Court has upheld the principle of one person-one vote, as has the Ohio Supreme Court when it struck down the former system of electing state representatives from counties on an at large basis as a violation of the one person-one vote principle.

Sometimes, I think I am just spinning my wheels and getting nowhere. Remember this.


Hooda Thunkit said...


Since you asked ;-)

The Mayor:
A WEAK Mayor, with essentially ceremonial duties. However, if a tie would be broken, then and only then would the Mayor cast a tie-breaking vote.

The “At Large Council representatives.” or, as I prefer to call them, “The Laddies & Ladies in waiting:
Zero, Zilch, Nada; based purely on their history of non-responsiveness to the voting public, a.k.a. “We the Sheeple...”
There is no time/room for primping prima donnas these days...

Their grandstanding, primping and posturing detracts from the business of City Government, IMNHO.

The City Manager/Administrator:
Recruited and chosen by the members of City Council (The Mayor gets no vote or input in the matter...)

Primary Duties are to know the ins and outs of the laws, City Charter, etc. and the go to person for how to get things done.

The Manager/Administrator runs the day-to-day functions of the City and answers to the Council. The Manager offers advice and input, based on the applicable laws, the City's financial condition and on their experience but carries out the directions of City Council.

The District Council members:
Always an odd number, 9 would be a good starting point, but should represent roughly equal numbers of Citizens, with the number changing with population growth/shrinkage; rebalanced roughly every three election cycles (9-12 years).

The Manager/Administrator would oversee:

Directors: Public Utilities, Public Safety, Public Service; who would oversee:

Public Safety
Commissioners (a.k.a. “Chiefs” in Public Safety):

Police Chief,
All Police Operations, plus...,
IT/Communications Services,
Traffic (Signals, Signs, Painting, etc. (one position),

Fire Chief,
All Fire, EMS, and Homeland Security Departments, plus...,
Dispatch Operations,

Public Service
Commissioners of Streets, Harbor and Bridges (one position),
Building Maintenance,
Fleet Management and Maintenance & Procurement,
Purchases, Supplies, Accounting, Taxation, Accounts receivable and payable (A certified Professional Accountant/Manager is called for here),
Law Department

Public Service also handles (and oversees) outsourced services (and contract compliance), such as Parks, Parks Maintenance, Parks Leasing, Mowing, Garbage Collection, Garbage Disposal, Landfill Operations, etc. under an Ombudsman-like status, answering to the appropriate Director/Chief, from whom they get their guidance. (This is like an Inspector/Compliance operation).

Public Utilities
All Water Operations (procurement, treatment, delivery),
All Sewer and Drainage Operations (storm and sanitary).
All Waste Water Operations (storm water storage, treatment/discharge)

Now this list is by no means complete, but it does show what can be done to streamline government and do away with un-mandated functions, growing government smaller and more efficient.

As always, the Manager/Administrator should take advantage of saving costs through partnering with other agencies doing essentially the same functions. (And Toledo needn't necessarily be the lead player, but more importantly a TEAM player.)

e.g., The County has the lead in the County-wide Radio Communications System, and their own fiber optic network; they should/could probably remain the lead agency in a county-wide fiber optic network, saving all government agencies within big bucks on communications, data and telephone costs.

Similarly, Toledo (obviously) has the dominant water delivery mechanism and we should logically be able to supply water (and sewage processing/disposal) county-wide, minus the punitive pricing structure which is the current practice. (I should mention that is is about time for a new water intake, further out in the lake, in deeper (and cleaner) water.... for the good of all).

And remember, you asked ;-)

Roland Hansen said...

Thanks so very much, Hooda Thunkit. It's always a pleasure to read, or hear, from someone who actually thinks and has positive contributions.