Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mayoral Reform

So the Mayor's Aide position is about to come under budgetary review again.  I won't be at the meeting, and I won't even be watching (I'll be discussing the finer points of prime factorization and the rules of special triangles to would-be b-schoolers, which may actually be more fun).

I'm not sure what to call it  (Survivor's guilt, maybe?), but I feel a slight something-is-wrong pang in my stomach when I think about the upcoming review process.  I took a few blows early on, but that was it.  I handed things off to a successor who has had to put up with far, far worse from the blogs, former colleagues at the paper, and people seeking to create problems out of thin air (i.e. a single reference to Greek food in a proclamation becoming a trivialization of Greek accomplishments).  

The REAL conversation we need to be having concerns the stated and implicit expectations we place on our Plan E Mayor.  For a moment, let's put aside all issues of the Charter, of mayoral "strength," and even of the Aide position.    You can call the Lowell Mayor role "ceremonial" as much as you like, but it comes with requirements involving City Council meetings, committee meetings, pre-meetings, tete-a-tetes with Administration officials, School Committee meetings, School Committee pre-meetings, discussions with the Superintendent's office, and more.  On top of that, there are expectations that the Mayor attend everything from ribbon cuttings to flag raisings to Little League opening days.  It never stops.  

We need to call this position what it is -- a full-time job.  We need to call it that, we need to treat it that way, and we need to compensate it that way.  

Unless we do that, we're either restricting the position to retirees, the independently wealthy, the self-employed who can absorb a temporary salary hit, or people whose "civilian jobs" are compatible with the non-stop demands associated with the position of Lowell Mayor.  

It's hard to get anyone to agree to any argument that's essentially saying, "Something is broken, but we can fix it by giving a person in a public position even more money."  But before you dismiss this out of hand, consider that the Mayor of Lowell makes less per hour than do the people championed by "living wage" protesters on any college campus.  The Mayor makes far less per hour than any other City employee or even any private employee in the city, let alone his/her aide.  

Some might counter and say, "But shouldn't this all come down to service?"  Yes, it should.  I would never advocate that we directly elect someone who receives a salary akin to what the CM makes -- that could certainly skew things in a way we might not like.  However, the Council can continue to elect a Mayor as primus inter pares after the electorate has already sent that person to the Council.  If we called the position what it is (a full-time job) and paid it what it's worth, then the door would be open to any of the nine (assuming they could tell their current employer, 'See you in two.') 

Service is a wonderful thing.  In order for people to be able to do it, it helps if they can take care of things like rent/mortgage, car payments, insurance, child care, 529 contributions, groceries, gas, etc.  

THIS is a conversation we need to be having. 

1 comment:

kad barma said...

The snipers attack the Mayor's office and its aide as if both are full-time positions, and, this much to their credit, they also promote the "Plan A" option which is, at least, consistent. I oppose scrapping our successful "Plan E" system, and I fully respect and appreciate the great things accomplished by professional city management under a strong and empowered city manager as we have enjoyed for many years now, and not just under the current manager. Endowing the Mayor's Office with full-time pay and the political tools to better defend him or herself would only seem to me logical if the object were building towards a Plan A Mayor and scrapping the City Manager. I agree with all you've said here, but I might suggest the Law Of Unintended Consequences might lurk somewhere down this road you're suggesting.