As mentioned in part 1 of Plainfield’s Branch of Government, the city of Plainfield has morphed into a single governmental branch operation, against all standards and norms of democracy (not to mention little things like constitutions.) In part 1, I ended with an example of not only a lack of separation of powers but what appears to be a lack of understanding by City Council members about their roles, their authority and how they are to conduct themselves with respect to the Executive Branch of municipal government. Prior to the May 2018 forum organized by the Plainfield LWV, candidates were sent three questions (easy stuff, definitely not heavy lift types of questions) to answer in writing and submit to the League for publication. Because Councilwoman Mills-Ransome and Ms. Ashley Davis (candidate for Ward 1 Council Seat) are the presumed winners for the general election this November, I will use their answers as examples of this issue related to separation of powers and checks and balances (please note these answers can be found on the Plainfield LWV website).
Question from Plainfield LWV: How will you uphold the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches?
Councilwoman Mills-Ransome’s Response: “I can uphold the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches because once appointed, I made the effort to ensure what I had learned years ago about separation of powers was still intact. The executive branch, the administration, initiates resolutions or ordinances following a line of approval – Department Director – City Administrator – Council President – for placement of items on the agenda for Council Consideration. The Administration also runs the day to day operation. The City Council represents the legislative branch. Once the Council President has approved placement on the agenda of the items the administration has presented, the Council receives the agenda items with backup information on the Friday before the Agenda Fixing session. At this session the Council makes the decision on items that will go to the Regular Meeting agenda for Council Action. Some items in the agenda fixing session are moved by consensus to the regular meeting agenda.”
Other than the fact that the question was in no way answered (not even close) it also erroneously states “…the administration, initiates resolutions or ordinances…” while there is truth to this it misses a very important part, the City Council (Legislative Branch) also has the power to write and present legislation, just like congress they have the power submit their own bills for consideration. The balance of Councilwoman Mills-Ransome’s answer is a checklist of the review and approval process for creating an agenda (basically its like really boring party planning) and has nothing to do with actually “checking” the other branches authority. As a side note, I would be interested to know how she went about ensuring that the checks and balances she learned about were “still in tact” – maybe they keep them in a cabinet or drawer at the Drake House and they can be observed?
Candidate Ashley Davis’ Response: I would uphold the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches by asking questions, which helps to provide clarity. Another way to uphold the checks and balances between the legislative and executive branches is to carefully review and understand the budget to ensure that the resources provided by the council are used appropriately. The council cannot get involved in administrative or day-to-day functions of the city, but through serving as liaisons to various city agencies, as well as serving on council committees, the council will provide the necessary checks and balances that are part of any effective democracy.
Take away starting the answer by repeating the question and do 3-4 more Google search’s and I feel like this answer may have ended up closer to the “Correct” column, however “questions and clarity” and being a “liaison” are not checks and balances. They may be part of checks and balances but they are not, in fact, actual checks or balances. Not sure what to do with “serving on council committees…..part of any effective democracy” – sounds good but means absolutely nothing, pure essay filler kind of stuff. It does have energy so only right to give a point or two for that.
Here is one definition of Check and Balances – there are many but NONE support the above answers:
Governmental: Extension of the separation of powers doctrine, under which each branch of a government can (if necessary) counter the actions or decisions of the other branches. This arrangement ensures transparency, and prevents domination of the government by any branch.
There is no arguing with the fact that changing a city charter is important and can have a great impact and cost to its citizens. Putting 10 “confidential aides” in the charter and saying “there is no intention of hiring them” is not the best way to safeguard taxpayers from increased costs and in fact gives this or future administrations the legal authority to use these as patronage positions (i.e. all cost no value). At best this is sloppy legislating done with haste, no public notice and without oversight (Alert: Legislative Check/Balance). More tomorrow in the Plainfield’s Branch of Government Part 3.