This is a three-part blog post regarding my primary takeaway from Monday nights City Council meeting. During that meeting it became overwhelmingly apparent to me that we have a local government that is operating as a single governmental branch – using processes and procedures only for the purposes of making things “official”. Our municipal government is set-up like all governments within the United States with three distinct branches – Executive, Legislative and Judiciary, each with its own role, responsibilities and authorities. The intent is that each branch performs their duties and acts as a check against the others – standard Civics 101 kind of stuff, or is it?
At the council meeting on Monday, the Mayor was straightforward about his approach to the changes in the city charter. (I won’t get into the background but information can be found on TapInto, Plainfield Today and Old Doc’s post). He clearly stated that the City Council performed their duty by passing (Made It Official) the recommendations as submitted by the Charter Study Commission (a publicly elected body established to study the cities charter and make recommendations for modifications) and then, without public announcement, citizen input or review by the Council, he had the legislation amended once it was in the hands of the NJ Legislature, giving the Executive branch the ability to greatly expand the operational structure and hire additional staff (up to 10 Confidential Aides) as desired. While some of the reorganization ideas are good (some not so much) and were part of the intent of the Charter Study Commissions recommended, and much narrower, modifications – the process for making these changes without proper public vetting is troublesome.
Even more troubling is our City Council’s apparent lack of understanding of their role and the lack of concern that the Executive branch usurped their authority (which they apparently are unaware they possess). Following the mayor’s presentation, the 6 Council members in attendance did not have a single question for the Executive Branch of which they are equals (i.e. they don’t report to the Mayor’s office). NOT… A… SINGLE… QUESTION. Imagine that – the legislation they passed, to in essence amend our cities constitution, was modified after the fact, without their consent or a public meeting and they were neither upset nor did they have any questions about such important factors as cost implications as a result of the added Department head positions and confidential aide positions, breaking apart the current Public Safety department or how the future Director of Communications and Technology is qualified to manage something as vital and sensitive as the city governments technology infrastructure (quick reminder – it was already hacked and held hostage for ransom once already.)
The administration (Executive Branch) seems to be under the impression that because the City Council (Legislative Branch) is composed of 7 democrats and six are aligned with the Mayor that his branch of government supplies the legislation and the Council just rubber-stamps it into law without question or oversight. For anyone that has been at a Council meeting they know that there are very few, if any, questions and little to no dialogue about resolutions or ordinances. This lack of separation between the primary branches of government in Plainfield reminded me of the candidate answers to the Plainfield League of Women Voters questions provided prior to the most recent forum in May. More on that in part two of Plainfield’s Branch of Government.