Time for leadership

Educate and inform the whole mass of the people... They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty. — Thomas Jefferson

For months tension has been building between the community and City Hall as citizens express concerns about invisible gains from a tax marked for police and streets, a deficit in the city’s reserves, a continuing trend of overspending, a raided wastewater account and subsequent fee increase, investment in bloated salaries over service to residents and an apparent attempt by the mayor to muzzle the city’s critics.

The official response to each of these concerns has been largely the same: trust us, we know what we are doing.

We have a representative form of government for a reason. It is virtually impossible for the average working citizen to take the time to understand, or even absorb, the complexities of the data behind the decisions that our city leaders are paid to research and make on our behalf. We elect those we feel most confident about making those calls, then live with their choices.

But with this form of leadership, it is necessary for the men and women who represent us to be able to articulate the justification for those decisions. When the only visible effect of those decisions is an increase in cost and a decrease in service, it is incumbent upon you, our elected representatives, to give an explanation.

When the Citizens Oversight Committee for Measure L established a baseline of expenditures for each department so that committee members could determine whether the tax was indeed being spent on police and streets, the members were chastised by city officials for overstepping the scope of their responsibilities.

When an independent auditor warned the city that the existing debts, lack of reserve fund and trend in overspending put the city on a course for fiscal disaster, the finance director dismissed the warning without offering supporting data.

When citizens decried the salaries of city officials as grossly out of step with those comparable in both private and public sectors, the city refused to even address the possibility of adjusting them.

Perhaps our leaders have insight that justifies their actions, and we will hear about it tonight.

If we don’t hear that justification, the council has an opportunity tonight to embrace the spirit of community volunteerism that has historically been rejected and examine the structure of our unsustainable spending that has largely been ignored.

But one thing is certain — whatever decisions are made, we will all of us live with the consequences. We have a host of concerned citizens from every point on the political spectrum shouting their fears that the ship is sinking, and offering evidence that supports that theory.

One of two things is owed to the public by the city council: a new course that will rectify our current fiscal woes or a substantiated assurance that those fears are unfounded. So far we have heard neither.

Story First Published: 2013-06-05