Wall Between City Employees and Elected Officials

18 Jun

I discussed earlier Arnold’s proposed ethics ordinance, which I think has provisions that inhibit oversight and tools that could be used against political opponents. Specifically here I refer to the prohibition that says

Except for the purpose of inquiry, information or investigation as established by statute or ordinance, the Mayor or Council Members shall deal with City officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the City Administrator or Chief of Police solely through the City Administrator or Chief of Police, as the case may be.

Friend of the blog David Stokes, over at the Show-Me Institute, had a recent editorial in the Post-Dispatch that touched on this very issue. While his editorial focused on the city manager form of government, which Arnold does not use, and the city of Ellisville in particular, I think its reasoning is applicable.

Many Missouri cities have adopted a city manager form of government. As part of that form of government, cities often place strict rules prohibiting contact between elected city officials and city employees or contractors other than the city manager. (Often, the only exception to this is for official city investigations.) Having such a contact was one of the accusations against former Ellisville Mayor Adam Paul in his impeachment. Despite good intentions of preventing political interference, those rules against any contact are thoroughly ridiculous. Preventing contact between elected officials and city employees except the city manager serves to empower the city manager over the elected officials, not to mention minor little issues with freedom of speech and association.

Replace “city manager” with “city administrator” – which is what Arnold and other JeffCo cities have – and this is quite relevant. As is this part of the editorial, which sounds very familiar:

A city manager working closely with a political majority can readily shut out other officials from the debate. If those elected officials in the minority have no way to access information, such as talking to other city employees who may know the true story, how can those public officials do their jobs?

Now, the Arnold ordinance allows councilman-employee contact for inquiry and information, as well as investigation, so it’s not quite as strict, but it still places a cloud over such interactions, because inquiry can easily lead to the offering of suggestions or advice, which would not be allowed under this ordinance. There is plenty to consider in this editorial, and I hope you will read it all, but let me close with Stokes’ closing:

Good government deserves open information, not restricted access and knowledge chokepoints.

 

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One Response to “Wall Between City Employees and Elected Officials”

  1. PH June 18, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    There is already that wall in at least one area in the city of Arnold. As part of the settlement agreement with Suzie Boone, ALL official communications to her are to go through the city administrator. I can imagine the scenario at council meeting. “Chief, can you ask Ms. Boone when she thinks the park will be totally clean from the flooding and all areas re-opened?” while she’s sitting at her table in the rotunda. Then she can turn back to the chief and say, “Tell Mr. Amato that we are hoping to have it complete by the end of June.” Who’s responsible for that agreement? At least some of the council was smart enough to vote against it. But Amato, Freeze, Moritz with Counts breaking the tie is why we have it!

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