My Turn: In Concord these days, we have a robo-council
Anyone surprised by the Concord City Council vote on the Bearcat hasn’t been following the council lately. Of 59 final name-recorded votes from January 2012 to September 2013, 58 passed and 45 passed unanimously – talk about robo-council! Out of the mayor and 14 councilors, three never voted no on any of these.
In days of yore, the council was supposed to set policy and the city staff were supposed to carry it out. There were many divided votes, and some motions actually failed.
During the present council term, the city staff sets the policy and the council rubber-stamps it. Since city senior staff receive higher pay than most residents and many don’t live in Concord, they aren’t as much affected by costs – the tax rate might be $2 per $1,000 lower if voters could vote on costly frills as separate warrant articles like in town meetings. Some staff are new to Concord and don’t know much about the city while others are planning to leave – the Monitor reported that one city planning manager was described by her boss as “her heart’s been in Massachusetts.” Why should we let these people control the future of the city?
For an example of this policy in action, consider the redevelopment of the Employment Security building. City staff sent out a request for proposals suggesting that the historic building be torn down – too bad if the developer or residents want to save it. Developers also had the option of putting a new city library on the site although previous plans to move the library to that area were rejected by voters. The bids were opened secretly and staff is negotiating to control what is built although they may not stay in the city long enough to see it happen. Councilors will just get an up-or-down vote and anybody who votes no will be accused of standing in the way of progress.
Some challengers in next week’s council election have already been involved with the city council.
Allan Hershlag has attended more council meetings over the years than many of the newer councilors and knows more about the city than many of the staff. Brent Todd and Byron Champlin have also testified frequently before the council.
Just do a search for their names on the city website, concordnh.gov, to see what positions they have taken.
(Roy Schweiker lives in Concord.)