Does Worcester Need a Stronger Mayor?
Friday, April 18, 2014
"Time to review and change our form of government in Worc. Plan-E has outlived it's usefulness. The time to change and move the city forward is now," is written in the "about" section of the page, which was launched on April 17.
Democratic activist and GoLocal MINDSETTER Paul Giorgio, who in November penned the column, "Should Worcester Look at Electing a Strong Mayor," responded to the development.
"I don't know if there is any effort to change the city charter, but their should be one," said Giorgio. "I believe that any effort must be a grassroots effort and come from the neighborhoods of Worcester. It can't be a top down effort," said Giorgio. "Having said that I think that you need buy-ins from neighborhood groups, the business community and the labor community."
Others in the political community, however, question the potential for such a movement to be successful.
"This is movement that comes up every couple of years -- it certainly comes up when we're looking from city manager, and it goes nowhere," said longtime Democratic community activist Gary Vecchio. "I think this one will similarly go nowhere. So if it's floating a trial balloon...I think it will quick run out of air."
Revisiting the Issue?
"Some have argued that Worcester's economic, social, and political health would be improved by replacing the current council-manager form of government with a strong mayor form of government. To assess that prospect, the Research Bureau examined 22 cities of comparable size to see if here is any apparent correlation between form of govenment and level of economic health vibrancy," wrote the WRRB at the time.
"Our findings do not support any such correlation. This suggests that other factors such as national economic trends, the availability of land for development, the quality of the workforce, or the history of relationships between the city council and the mayor or the city council and the manger may be more important than the form of government in determining the health and wealth of cities," the WRRB concluded.
Jean Deleso at the WRRB said Thursday, "The document still stands as the most recent and comprehensive look at the issue."
With the next City Manager still yet to be determined, and interim manager Ed Augustus slated to leave to return to his position at Holy Cross this fall, the search to fill the slot is currently a main focus of the city council.
"My question is where is the city council with having a national search firm look for a new city manger," quipped Chris Pinto, with the Worcester Republican City Committee. "Is there merit to a strong mayor? The rumor is if they change the charter, it's a set up for Tim Murray to be the next Mayor for life. The problem with a strong Mayor is that the running of the city would become very political."
Defining a Strong Mayor
"According to the National Civic League’s Model City Charter as well as the Massachusetts General Laws which established the “Plan” charters that can still be emulated for “home rule” charters in the Commonwealth, a strong mayor form of government includes the following qualities," wrote the WRRB.
* The mayor is elected separately from the city council as the chief executive officer of the city.
* The mayor’s term of office should be sufficient to allow a degree of independence from the city council and allow time to take on major projects.
* The mayor appoints department heads without city council approval.
* The mayor can veto legislation passed by the city councill.
* The mayor’s salary is commensurate with responsibilities and sufficient to attract well-qualified candidates. (The current city manager’s salary is $130,000. A mayor should receive a similar salary.)
Vecchio said he thought it was the potential for a major shakeup in the City Manager position that he saw a reason for people currently reexamining the role of Mayor.
"A lot of people want to see a local person as city manager. Now that Ed Augustus is crystal clear he's not staying, I think there's concern about the City Council doing a nationwide search, and having someone in from the outside, which I think there's a 50/50 chance," said Vecchio. "There's benefits to someone local, they can hit the ground running, and that leads to good management. He or she might know right away who to keep on board, who not to. If you get the person from California, it will take time for that person to learn the lay of the land."
However, Vecchio noted, "That's a short term problem, vs. a long term politician, that might not have the necessary management skills. In my opinion, the ideal manager should have the people skills of Tom Hoover, and the management skills of Mike O'Brien."
Giorgio noted that what he saw as the need for stronger political leadership at the local level. "We must seek common ground and continue the effort of moving Worcester forward.What has held Worcester back is its perceived lack of political leadership on the local level."
Former Mayors on the Issue
"It's not like the mayor will be the final determiner of how the city goes. The city manager offers you a certain amount of insulation from those winds and political intrigue and political trends," said Lukes. "I don't think this [strong mayor] effort represents any significant portion of the population, I don't see the business community as being upset. At the end of the day, it's the people that are serving in government that make a difference."
As for former mayor Tim Murray, Sharyn Williams with Greater Worcester Chamber of Commerce said the business group was focused on the task at hand -- and no major structural change.
"The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce is focused on fully leveraging the economic development momentum underway here in the city and region," said Williams. "Additionally, we want to support the mayor and city council in finding a top notch city manager to replace Michael V. O’Brien. These should be our top community priorities not withstanding any debate about forms of municipal government."
Related Slideshow: Biggest Checks Written by the City of Worcester - January 2014
It takes a lot of money to run Worcester. See the city's biggest expenses in this collection of the largest checks written out to vendors.
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