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The Observer 11/17/14

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Home arrow Opinion arrow Our View arrow UNION SHOULD REJECT STONG MAYOR PLAN

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UNION SHOULD REJECT STONG MAYOR PLAN

Ever been advised to get major surgery for what could be cured with a little out-patient treatment? The city of Union is in that very predicament now.

City residents are getting mail ballots to vote on Measure 31-48 for the May 18 election. A yes vote would replace the city administrator with what's called a strong mayor form of government. Union has had a full-time city administrator since 1977, and a part-time one since 1969. The administrator was hired to deal with the growing complexities of managing a small city. The city moved from gravel streets, septic tanks, wells and virtually no land-use planning to a modern one coming under the umbrella of state and federal public health laws, regulations on employee relations and more — all the realities of an increasingly complex world.

Strong mayor governments are becoming an endangered species. In fact, according to Citizens In Support of Union research, an average of 44 cities yearly in the United States are moving to a council/mayor/administrator form of government, while just two go to a strong mayor form.

The city administrator job may not be rocket science, as some in TOTAL, the group leading the initiative drive, suggest. But it is administrative science. And when a strong mayor's trail is being dogged every step of the way, and if more recalls occur, the qualified citizen-candidate pool will shrink quickly. How long is it before no one is left willing or able to take on this large management job in a small town like Union? Especially when you consider the complex job description, which includes knowing budget mechanics, land-use planning laws and street maintenance and construction; helping departments solve problems; exploring grants; preparing for hearings; handling personnel problems; and working closely and cooperatively with county, state and federal government agencies. Face it. It's a complex world. The administrator needs specialized knowledge and training.

Give TOTAL some credit. The group has passion, no doubt. And it presents some worthy ideas about how the council can communicate better with citizens, and how the city can live within its means.

But the truth is, under the mayor/council/city administrator government, citizen participation is always welcome, especially when those citizens treat each other with respect. And Union has had a mixed record of citizen participation. Some 14 candidates volunteered their services to fill three council positions, two vacated by the recent recall election and one vacated by a councilor who resigned. But to fill two planning commission vacancies recently, only two people applied.

Voters should do their research before they vote by mail and decide for themselves what's best for the future of Union. Does it continue moving ahead into a promising future? Or does it take a risky step back into the past? Citizens need to get involved in helping Union heal the rifts. A city will always have some problems to solve, some disagreements to smooth out. That's inevitable. But the current troubles really only need a Band-Aid to fix, not major surgery.

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