Last night’s Council Meeting (Agenda Fixing Session) was a display of the tail wagging the dog. The Mayor’s proposal to remove the power of the Council to approve lay-off plans and shift it solely to the cities Executive Branch is yet another example of a City Council that does not only not understand their role, will not take the time to do their due-diligence prior to the council meetings and can’t seem to stand up for themselves long enough to get a clear answer to their questions.
The proposed ordinance MC2019-07 will remove the Council’s “Advise and Consent” power over any proposed lay-off plans by the city. That’s right – a governing body is moving to weaken themselves – a likely unheard of situation. The claim by the Administration and Corporation Counsel is that this is just a housekeeping matter to align the city charter with municipal code. It should be noted that there are very few council sessions with municipal code clean-up being done so it is interesting that this particular topic is in such dire need of a refresh. It is also interesting to note that the current ordinance has been in place since the time the current charter was enacted – so where is the need or urgency to make the change. For those that attended last months council meeting there is a clue – the layoff of the emergency dispatchers that was proposed and not voted on in February (Not because the Council members voted against it, but because no council member was willing to second the motion to vote on the resolution).
The administration would like to outsource the functions of the dispatchers to a private firm – apparently because of an estimated savings of over $2 million over the term of the contract. Without seeing the details of that agreement it is hard to see how outsourcing 5 individuals would save that much money – add to that the administrations habit of performing poor outsourcing projects and it makes that savings even harder to comprehend. That issue aside, it is obvious that the Council’s inability to act on the Mayor’s wishes caused some bad feelings within the group and as a result the Mayor decided to just change the way the process works so that he can get his way.
Outsourcing is not always a bad thing – and can often lead to efficiencies and economies of scale that some corporations or governments struggle to achieve independently for areas that are outside their core competency. But not all outsourcing is smart and poorly outsourced programs can cost more and create issues with performance and service, resulting in having to be brought back in-house at considerable expense.
It is my guess that the Mayor has a budget issue to resolve and is eager to get this outsourcing project in motion for his next budget. I would also guess that he would dig out the prior plan to outsource the planning division – which only failed last time because of public outrage and a council that stood up against the proposal.
All but two council members asked questions last evening and each one of them failed to hold the administration or corporation counsel’s feet to the fire on the answers. They allowed themselves to get spin and conflated information instead of the answer to their questions. The only exception to that was Councilwoman Ashley Davis – who asked several questions and repeated them until she got the answer. She also had the courage to vote against moving this ordinance to next week’s agenda where it will be voted on. Unfortunately, her colleagues still struggle with what their role is as a council member, fail to do the necessary homework prior to the meetings and instead appear to just formulate questions on the fly during the meeting.
With the exception of Ms. Davis, the council demonstrated their utter lack of independence from the Mayor (also their party chair who decides if they can be on the ballot and their chief fundraiser for elections) – so little independence that they will give up authority that has been with the Plainfield City Council for 50 years without demanding any real information or understanding the nuances of the city charter or municipal code.
Approving this ordinance could have very dire and expensive consequences for Plainfield near and long term and the Mayor’s insistence that the Council would still have to approve any contracts for outsourcing projects is another sad topic – this Council has never asked pointed questions about any contract let alone denying one or any of the requisite expenditures that go along with them.