I note that Jean Jacobs has proposed changing the form of city government from strong Mayor to City Manager. I had hoped this debate ended in 1994, but suppose I always knew it would rear its head again.
Back in 1994, my father was appointed by Mayor Gallo to serve on the Charter Commission which ultimately rejected the City Manager form of government. I remember the League of Women Voters held a debate on this matter at the County Courthouse between Dad (for strong Mayor) and the late Tom Benton, esq. (for City Manager). I was so proud of my Dad when he won the debate against a trained and experienced attorney. His arguments still hold strong to this day.
For the reasons I am about to set forth, I, like my Dad, am diametrically opposed to a City Manager. However, I want to also make clear that my strong opposition to this proposal should not be seen as an attack against Jean Jacobs. I know she is offering this idea because she believes in it and thinks it will help Kingston. While Jean's heart is in the right place, I think the proposal is a bad idea.
The concept of a City Manager is essentially the municipal form of a School Superintendent. The idea is to bring in a so-called expert, pay him or her a substantial salary, and let them run the municipality. In the case of the school district, the current pay is close to double that of the County Executive and the next Superintendent will be at least $175,000.00, an amount the city cannot afford. How many people think the City of Kingston needs its own Superintendent?
Over the years, I have railed against hiring outside consultants because I believe there are no problems facing Kingston that we as Kingstonians cannot solve ourselves. Finally, others seem to jumping on this bandwagon. Why would we now essentially hire a consultant to run our entire city?
One must ask why we would pay a Mayor $75,000.00 per year and then pay a City Manager substantially more to do the job currently done by the Mayor. I know some will point out the deficiencies of the current Mayor to justify the hiring of an outside expert. I do not disagree that our current Mayor leaves much to be desired, but cannot agree that we need someone from outside the City of Kingston to tell us how to run our city.
Over the years, we have had good Mayors, bad Mayors, and some really outstanding Mayors. Regardless of their performance, they were all Kingstonians with an understanding of what our city is all about. I find it comforting that the leader of our city is a Kingstonian, preferably born and raised.
I cannot highlight enough the importance of having a native and lifelong Kingstonian as our Mayor and leader. A City Manager or a non-Kingstonian would never have ordered the renewal and refurbishing of our beautiful City Hall on Broadway. However, Mayor T.R. Gallo was a native Kingstonian and understood the importance of the building to the people of our city. Now, we have a City Hall that we can be proud of.
A second problem with a City Manager is accountability. A City Manager is not elected by the people. He or she is hired by the Common Council and therefore relies upon them to keep his or her job. I prefer someone hired and fired on Election Day by the people of Kingston. Putting our future into the hands of the Aldermen and a hired manager is not as effective as having a strong Mayor who is held directly accountable to the voters of Kingston.
Take a look at the actions of our Common Council over the last 2 years, i.e. cats, yard sales, cigarettes, sidewalks, etc. with no real progress on spending, taxes, or economic development. Is this really the group we want effectively running the entire city through a hired manager? Personally, I think the answer is an obvious no.
Take a look as well at the number of lawsuits that have arisen when a city council fires its city manager. It often gets very ugly and very expensive. With a Mayor, the firing occurs on Election Day and is clean and final.
In summary, I am strongly against a City Manager form of government. I think a strong Mayor is essential to the revival of our city. The voters should choose our future and our leader, not the Common Council. I believe that I have the skills, education, and experience to run this city effectively and I would not require an outside "expert" to help me do so. I believe Shayne Gallo is the only other candidate ready to go on day one as well.
Whether the voters choose me, Shayne, or anyone else, let the decision of our leader always be with the voters of Kingston. I think a City Manager is a bad idea. It was rejected in the election of 1994 and should remain firmly on the ash heap of history.