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Welcome to The Asylum. Just as before, Josh is always right.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Issue of Ballot Issues

I've caught a bit of flak recently.

No, not that flak, and not from the people you're thinking of, either.  That was to be expected.

This was from a reader who took issue with the fact that I didn't mention the other significant matter at the last Hillsdale City Council meeting: the approval of November ballot language that asks if we should make the city clerk and city treasurer positions appointed rather than elected.

Let me explain my editorial decision: I didn't cover those two council votes because of the time-sensitivity of the city manager search debacle.  The information about the two publicly-named candidates had only just recently been discovered, and I even jumped ahead of my own promised publishing date to make sure that that information was shared here the day of the city council meeting in the hopes that you might take it and run with it that night.  The piece that I published instead that Wednesday was the follow-up, addressing both the arrogant attitude of resentment that the council displayed while voting to offer David Mackie the job anyway, as well as addressing some of the uproar that Monday's piece had instigated.

By the way, in the time since, Mackie has withdrawn his name from contention in Farmington, so providing that the contract gets worked out to his and the council's satisfaction, the man is now our city manager.  Doesn't that just fill you with hope for our future?

Now, sure, I could have covered the ballot measures, too.  I could have given you a whole boatload of issues to take to that meeting.  But there are two primary reasons why I didn't.

The first is that, on that particular Monday night, we needed to be focused on the most pressing issue, because the council was guaranteed to try to ram this through -- definitely unethically, and quite likely illegally -- whether we liked it or not.  If anyone was going to show up to oppose them, there had to be a united front, not a handful of people all talking about different subjects during the public comment periods.

The second reason is that the ballot language is just that: ballot language.  What the council voted to do that night was approve the language for two ballot measures; one for the city clerk position, the other for the city treasurer position.  This language asks the voters if the mayor should appoint their chosen candidate to those positions to be approved by the city council, who will then establish the terms of employment (length of time, salary, and conditions).

That's what they voted on.  Just the language.  The ball is now in our court.  In order to make either position appointed, the city charter has to be amended, which means that we have to approve it.  The city council can't just vote on it and make it so, this is our choice to make, and we won't be making it until November.  That's why it wasn't such a pressing issue at the last city council meeting.

The person who brought this concern to me rightly pointed out that the ballot measures could have been stopped at the council meeting if we had convinced them to vote the language down, and that the fact that the language was even presented to begin with is just yet another sign that the good ol' boys want to consolidate their own power and take it away from you.  All of that is true.

However, that being said, they were going to do it anyway.  The city manager vote proved that.  If something that important was something they didn't bother listening to our objections over, ballot language for an issue that we're going to have to vote on anyway isn't going to be held up by our objections, either.

Not to mention the fact that several people had already filed as write-in candidates for the city clerk election before the council voted on the ballot issue. They knew that there are people who wish to fill the void, they just didn’t care.

Well, I shouldn't say that they all didn't care.  It should be noted that there were three votes against the clerk measure's approval, which is a good sign that we do at least have some city council members who are listening to their constituents, or at least have the sense themselves that this is not the right thing to do.  So thanks to councilpersons Emily Stack-Davis, Bruce Sharp (who still needs to learn how to deal with the Internet) and Adam Stockford for their "no" votes.

But as Dame Shirley Bassey sings, "this is all just a little bit of history repeating." City Hall has attempted this before.  They waited the two years required by state law and are now putting it on the ballot yet again, despite the fact that they were told "no" the last time.  Which means that they're wasting your tax dollars and mine by repeatedly putting a question they've already had answered on the ballot.  Elections ain't cheap.

Now, all that being said, this is a good test for us.  Are we truly committed to this city and making it function to everyone's benefit?  Or are we -- as I've put myself on the line to accuse us all, myself included, of being -- simply apathetic and complacent?

Do we want to keep these two elected positions in our control as a check on corruption?

Or do we just not care?

These votes will prove whether or not we're actually motivated to self-govern.

You're going to hear the pro-appointment side go nuts with their campaign.  Especially now that the city clerk section on the very same ballot is going to be empty.  They're going to point at that empty row and say "see?!  Nobody wants to do this!  That's why we have to have this power, because nobody wants to run an election campaign for these positions!"

And you know what?  I'm not going to lie: that's a rather compelling argument.

But here's the thing: if nobody runs for the position, the city council has to appoint someone to it anyway.  They won't tell you that little factoid.  Those are positions that, by state law, have to be filled.  That's why that fallback is there.  The ONLY purpose for making them appointed positions rather than elected ones is to consolidate power in the hands of a select few and usurp it from the voters.

That is the ONLY reason.  Do not let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

You see, a pattern has very clearly emerged at 97 N. Broad.  Do you recognize it?

  • City employee, BPU director and habitual drunk driver Rick Rose yells at and berates the city council to their faces.
  • City employee, legal counsel and alliterative name-haver Lew Loren rejects street repair plans citing lack of precedent simply because he doesn't like them.
  • Soon-to-be-former city employee, former interim city manager and displeased political cartoon character Doug Terry sits on a committee to choose his own replacement when the position would fall to him if nobody is chosen (and he gets to keep his $50-an-hour job with this city as long as the search continues).

And what gets done about it?  Nothing.  Nobody even bats an eye.  Council just sits there and takes it.  Council is complicit by virtue of their failure to take control of these situations.  Council even participates in these situations at times.

This is why it is imperative that we reject these ballot proposals just as soundly as we rejected Proposal 1 last Tuesday (which, by the way, well done on that one, Michigan; that was absolutely the right call).  We cannot let a small cadre of city employees, who the council should be exerting their authority over, continue to ram their personal ambitions down our throats.

The good ol' boys have to be held accountable.

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