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Telegram from the neck cushion of Mayor Lauren Poe

BY ANONYMOUS / JUNE 29, 2019

The following is satire.

Aloha, nā kānaka ukiuki huhū:

It has been conveyed to me that there is a modicum of dissent among the people of Gainesville who work in the community to provide tax resources for our municipal government. Your anger is evidently due to my travel costs of $3,700 or some such trifling. The long flight over the blue waters of the Mediterranean has allowed me to contemplate your misgivings before I touch down on the island nation of Hawaii, where I will attend the 87th U.S. Conference of Mayors, which translated into English means “Feasting Table of the Grand Poobahs.”

I don’t expect simple folks to comprehend the complex nature of government service, but the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors empowers me with enough strokes of esteem-boosting platitudes to help me tolerate people like you.

Justifying this cost is the fact that I’ve been asked to speak at this conference. Yes, it’s true that EVERY attendee has also been invited to present on some matter at some breakout session, and it’s also true that I don’t have anything unique to contribute since all of my municipal ideas are derivative of things they do in Portland.

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The key takeaway for you to know is that I – which in the native Hawaiian tongue is pronounced “moi” – will get to virtue signal 4,500 miles away about how woke I am to progressive causes. Can we really put a price tag on that?

Speaking of takeaways, you may have seen the reports in various media outlets, in which I stated that a big benefit of attending these conferences is that I bring back ideas to impose on Gainesville. The reporters – understandably starstruck in my presence – failed to ask the obvious follow-up question about which specific takeaways from previous conferences I have implemented. So I am happy to share them here.

Past Takeaways from the U.S. Conference of Mayors

The key to making local government work for the progressive establishment is to make sure that normal 9-to-5’ers misunderstand how government operates. Most people think the Mayor and Commission are in charge of running the city. The reality is that we function under a council-manager form of government where the day-to-day operations of the city are managed by an executive class of charter officers.

These are professional managers who command professional salaries and are professionally trained in their areas of expertise. They handle all personnel matters and are responsible for all programs and initiatives. They are, essentially, the corporate officers of city government. In fact, so critical are their jobs that elected officials are prohibited by law from interfering with their work!

By contrast, the job of elected officials under this system is restricted to setting general policy direction, establishing a bi-annual budget, and meeting with constituents. As mayor, I also preside over public meetings and attend ceremonial functions. For this I’m paid a paltry $41,000, while my commissioner colleagues receive just $31,000.

So my key takeaway from the 2016 U.S. Conference of Mayors plenary session called Local Government on a Need to Know Basis was the importance of blurring the distinction between elected officials and charter officers. What you need to know is that your mayor and commissioners are consumed with the daily busyness of city government.

There are 134,000 people in Gainesville who need tending to, lest they wander off and do things without our permission. Without the elected class, who would stop crime and put out fires? Who makes sure the lights come on at the flip of a switch with a pound of flesh? Rainwater that runs into drainage pipes instead of your living room? You’re welcome!

Never mind that a council-manager system, functioning as designed, leaves few opportunities for a politician to fill a 40-hour work week. A few meetings, a few phone calls, a few ceremonies. I doubt many of my colleagues even surpass twenty hours per week on the job without factoring in the biweekly regular meeting. In fact, feel free to track our daily activities to see just how many hours we actually log.

Given our limited role, the amount of money we’re paid is very generous. When compared to charter officers and their hefty six-figure salaries, however, people who are ignorant of the council-manager system think we are grossly underpaid. We like those people!

But it’s more than just the money. It’s very difficult to impose a progressive vision on a city that operates under a council-manager form of government, even if the elected body is sufficiently woke. There are too many layers, too many checks and balances, and the process of change takes too long. 

The council-manager form of government is utilized by 54 percent of all local governments, but it suffers from one major flaw – it restricts my power. Even though I rock this title of Mayor, my authority is relatively weak. And there are risks from doing end-runs around charter officers, otherwise known as going full Hayes-Santos. After voting on policy and budget, I’m supposed to get out of the way and let the professionals do their jobs.

Gainesville would benefit from a different governance model called the Strong Mayor-Commission system, like the ones found in the mega-cities of New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. These cities may be marked by declining populations, rising crime, and failing social services, but that is not the point. Such quaint 20th-century concepts are no substitute for woke power in the New American City.

Getting to a stronger system for the elected class means convincing people that the current model doesn’t work. Thus, the second key takeaway I brought back to Gainesville comes from the 2017 U.S. Conference of Mayors in a plenary session on Disruption & Corruption for the Greater Good.

Every time I call a meeting, charter officers and other key managers must suspend their work in order to attend. In fact, the more meetings I call or new committees we create or additional appointments we demand, the less time-on-task professional staff have to run the city.

This, of course, creates the very conditions that result in poor management, lax oversight, and inefficient services. Plus, it makes moi and commissioners look busier than we actually are, which feeds the perception that we are overwhelmed with full-time work for which we are inadequately compensated.

This strain on the city’s actual professionals has led to a rash of problems ranging from fiscal mismanagement to program mission-drift to low employee morale. Before you reach the simplistic conclusion that this is indicative of incompetent political leadership, consider the possibility that this crescendo of chaos is an act of calculated genius…

While these problems escalate, a Charter Review Commission has been impaneled to make recommendations that could change the structure of local government. By coincidence, all of the appointees favor a Strong Mayor system and higher salaries for elected officials, for there’s no room for diverse opinions when fighting for a diverse and inclusive future!

Until this transition is complete, complications may arise from charter officers who have the temerity to actually do their jobs rather than accommodate our meddling, and the assertive leadership needed to stop it is simply not in my wheelhouse, as I learned early in my first term when I tried but failed to orchestrate the firing of a charter officer while he was away, bedside with a cancer-stricken spouse.

Fortunately, my third takeaway from last year’s U.S. Conference of Mayors gave me the technique I needed to compensate for my deficit, in a session called Giving A Wink-and-Nod to Passive Aggressive Leadership.

A few months ago, the City Auditor released a report on a favored social program that identified inadequate oversight and the misallocation of resources – par for the course and consistent with the overall direction of many municipal programs. But this insolent charter officer also included recommendations to strengthen the program and align its stated goals with measurable results, as well as a feedback mechanism for continuous improvement. Obviously, this was unacceptable.

In a healthy political environment, criticism would be leveled at the area responsible for the mismanagement of the program – that is, the City Manager’s Office. But we’re not in a healthy political environment, so the interim city manager instead was enlisted to deal with the surly auditor.

All it took was a few winks and nods from moi and commissioners during her regular weekly appointments (not that we coordinated anything out of the sunshine, mind you), and the eager-to-please interim shelved her professionalism in order to shame and humiliate a career public servant and retired military veteran by publicly speculating on illegal disclosures about his private life.

In a normal political environment, this would be cause for the immediate dismissal of the offending charter officer. After all, they take an oath to abide by the highest ethical standards and to conduct themselves with integrity, neutrality, and professional respect for one another.

No charter officer would publicly undermine another charter officer without receiving approval from a majority of the elected body, and verbal commands or anything in writing are not necessary. Just winks and nods to ensure we are all on the same page.

For uninitiated plebes, this episode suggests a high degree of dysfunction down at City Hall. However, this is a preview of the way things will work once we usher in a Strong Mayor system – pliant functionaries rewarded through woke cronyism while by-the-books competence is subordinated to progressive political discipline.

I see islands in the distance, so I better wrap this up. The hairs on my arm tingle as I consider that I am flying to the same place that Plácido Domingo discovered so many years ago, proving the world is round!

Which reminds me – I’m a teacher, and all of these episodes are teachable moments. The lesson here is that politics is a tough business. It takes studied effort to fake the fret-and-furrowed-brow routine over the messy circumstances that forced the City Auditor’s departure.

Although I consider it an occupational hazard to mingle with the masses, I’m glad I had the opportunity to monologue at you. It should be clear now that attending these conferences is money well spent because I bring back new strategies to put to work on your behalf, whether you like it or not.

And one final takeaway, just because I’m in a generous mood: The “US” in the title “U.S. Conference of Mayors” literally stands for “us”; it’s just capitalized for loudness! So set your anger aside and be proud of me for the sacrifice I’m making to spend a week in Hawaii on your behalf. I am you and we are us. And us are all in it together!

E kaomi iaʻu

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