The State is pulling out all the stops on strong-mayor to the point that Cindi is joining Warren in writing about it.
Of course, it’s not much of a stretch, since Cindi’s been writing about similar issues on the state level for decades now. In fact, while a lot of people remember that the “Power Failure” series pointed to a Cabinet form of government on the state level, there were two entire installments (each of them several full pages long, back when a newspaper page was a lot of space) devoted to our weak, ineffectual, fragmented local governing arrangements in South Carolina.
In her column, Cindi demolishes the anti- argument that the current system gives us “a professional manager,” instead of a politician. She does this in a most brutal fashion, by citing Columbia’s actual experiences with “professional managers.”
Beyond that, she points out that in government, unlike in the corporate world, the principle of representative democracy is crucial. “A professional instead of a politician” sounds good to people who don’t stop and think about the difference between business and government. Imagine, for a moment, Jack Nicholson in “The Departed,” explaining emphatically to the Chinese gangsters how we do things “in this country.”
In this country, “politics” is not, contrary to popular belief, a bad word. It’s the way government plugs itself in to its only legitimate power source, the people. Politics is the legitimate human interaction between voters and the elected, between different elected people, and among voters themselves. It is the one legitimate form of decision-making in the American system of governance.
Government in America is not a clockwork orange. It’s not a wind-up toy, that works all by itself as long as someone has an instruction manual. It requires that actual political decisions be made by humans, and that those decisions are acted up in an effective and accountable manner.
To quote from Cindi’s column:
INTERSPERSED with their dire warnings of corruption and patronage and bossism, the opponents of putting the mayor in charge of Columbia’s government like to talk nobly of the professionalism of the current system.
It’s right there on the yard signs: “Professional Manager, Not a Politician.”…
If you value expertise and professionalism as I do, that can sound alluring.
Until you see how it actually works.
Until a city hires someone with so little experience that it had to reduce its job requirements in the middle of the search process in order to even consider her. Until a city hires someone it’s willing to reduce its job requirements for because of what can be seen only as political reasons.
Teresa Wilson had been an assistant city manager just 18 months when the Columbia City Council named her city manager in January. She had worked for the city less than six years, and most of her work there and elsewhere was in government relations, which is a fancy term for lobbyist.
Her predecessor, Steve Gantt, had a resume closer to what the professional-manager advocates advocate, but even he had been an assistant manager just seven years, and had worked before that in private construction.
Before him we had Charles Austin, who may have been a fine police chief but was Peter Principled into the city manager job by council members who needed to make a quick decision and thought his popularity could serve to their political advantage. He actually did a better job than should have been expected, but in the end it was clear that this wasn’t the sort of job he was trained to do.
On paper, Leona Plaugh was precisely what the professionalism advocates had in mind. But she was forced out after just 18 months in the wake of a series of heavy-handed moves that included an attempt to muzzle City Council members who were criticizing her…
Ms. Plaugh, now a member of the City Council and one of the most vocal opponents of strong mayor, opposed hiring Ms. Wilson, saying she wasn’t experienced enough for the job. And yet, there she is…
To believe in the “professional manager” myth, you have to “set aside what we know about the Columbia City Council’s track record with city managers.”
But even if all the “professional managers” were ideal,, government should not be run by an unelected executive.
I urge you to go read the whole column.