May 9, 2008

Chief operating officer idea could still survive

City councilors solidly rejected a proposal Friday to create a chief operating officer to oversee the administration of City Hall.
“We have a perfect form of checks and balances now,” said city Councilor Frank Nicastro, a former mayor who opposed the suggested charter change.
Though the vote isn’t the last word on the idea, it makes it much less likely that the fundamental shift in the city government blueprint recommended by the Charter Revision Commission will eventually win approval.
The council, on a 5-2 vote, recommended the charter panel drop the idea from its final report, which will likely be submitted in early June. But whether or not charter commissioners agree to drop the proposal, it is clear that the council won’t back it in the end.
However, there is another route to passage that even some opponents said they’re interested in.
The council also gunned down another charter panel recommendation that would shift the part-time treasurer from an elected to an appointed post. Only two councilors, Democrat Craig Minor and Republican Ken Cockayne, backed the change.
The two councilors who backed the chief operating position, Minor and Cockayne, said they would help gather signatures to force the city to put the recommended charter change on the ballot so voters could decide if they want it or not.
“Let’s let the people vote,” Cockayne said. Minor said the decision is “too big” for the council alone to make.
To pull that off, they’d have to collect signatures from 10 percent of the city’s approximately 31,000 voters within 45 days of the final council vote on the charter commission’s report, probably in late June and July.
City Councilor Cliff Block, who voted against the chief operating officer concept, said he’s interested to see if a groundswell of support for the idea really exists.
Mayor Art Ward, who also voted against the position, said he will support the petition process.
The council has the power to put the suggested change on the ballot even if its members don’t agree with the proposal. But there doesn’t appear to be support for doing so.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski called the proposed chief operating officer “another layer of bureaucracy” that would cost taxpayers too much.
Nicastro said that the strong mayor form of government in Bristol has served the city well for nearly a century and there’s no reason to revise it. He said that arguments that department heads are out of control is “garbage.”
“People seem to be living in the past,” Cockayne said. “We have to be looking to the future.”
Ward said he doesn’t see a need for someone to manage the departments more directly than the mayor can.
“I don’t really believe the COO is going to be contribute anything positive,” Ward said.
Minor said he favors a city manager, but the new post is “a step in the right direction” toward bringing more professionalism to city government.
Minor changes that would double the registrars’ terms of office to four years and revise some wording in the charter section on the city clerk were supported by councilors. They are likely to appear on the November general election ballot.
I'll try to add some more details later about what each of the councilors said Friday so check back over the weekend if you're interested. I'll add them below this story.

Here's what Craig Minor had to say during the meeting:
I am in favor of the council-manager form of government. While the COO is not a true “town manager”, I believe it is a step in the right direction and is long overdue.
I listened carefully to the comments that were made in these chambers earlier this week. I have read my emails, listened to my phone messages, and read the blogs and newspaper articles and letters. Clearly this is an issue that people feel strongly about, and I think the people should be given the chance to vote on it in November.
A number of thoughts occurred to me as I was listening to Bristol citizens express their hopes, and their fears, about the COO, and I would like to share them with you.
1. People have asked, how much will the COO cost? That’s a fair question. I personally think that in the long run the COO will save us a lot more than he costs, but a better way to look at it is to think back to when desktop computers were just starting to become common in the workplace. Everyone wanted to know how much money would they save. Well, as it turned out, they probably didn’t save a penny. But they made it possible for us to provide much better service to our customers, and to do many things we never thought possible. They make us more productive. That’s what the COO provides.
2. Several times the other night I heard people say, “we don’t need another bureaucrat” as if the department heads are all the same and interchangeable. Were you referring to the Chief of Police and the Building Official? Or the Park Superintendent and the Public Works Director? These positions are all required by charter and the city could not function without them. Since the COO will help these departments function more efficiently, wouldn’t we want one now as we enter tough financial times?
3. A lot has been made of the council’s supposed inability to ever fire the COO. First of all, his contract would almost certainly contain a “buyout” provision in case the relationship between the COO and the Mayor and council completely breaks down. But this is an extremely pessimistic attitude. A city manager is someone who wants to do good, and if he finds he is not able to do good in Bristol, he will probably very much want to move on to a place where he is appreciated.
4. In a big corporation, the CEO at some point in his career has usually held one or more of the jobs that he now supervises. To the best of my knowledge no Bristol mayor has ever been a Finance Director, a Personnel Director, or a Public Works Director. I don't think any Bristol mayor has ever worked in any other town, so they’ve never had any first hand knowledge of best management practices used elsewhere. They have no way of knowing the right departmental goals and objectives, and they have no benchmarks to evaluate the performance of the department head. All they know is "the way we've always done it".
5. If we vote tonight to keep this proposal in the Final Report, we are sending a strong message that the Bristol City Council takes the business of governing seriously. This is the message that we want to send to companies and families who are thinking about relocating to Bristol, and especially to developers who are right now deciding whether or not to propose investing their time and money in the Depot Square parcel.
6. But more important than my opinion is the opinion of the people of Bristol. I think this issue to too big to leave up to the seven people sitting on the City Council.


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Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
Contact Steve Collins at scollins@bristolpress.com

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

There is a difference in people wanting a say, and the people wanting a COO.

Anonymous said...

Minor working with Cockayne: the blind leading the blind!

Cockayne addict said...

Nancy Reagan would say "yes" to Ken Cockayne!!

Anonymous said...

May 9, 2008 8:57 PM:

BS, these two are the only ones with any brains...and everyone knows it!

Anonymous said...

Now we can attach flip flopper to Art Ward too.

Anonymous said...

Go Ken!! You are the only one who is working to benefit the people and save us taxes.

Anonymous said...

Craig is right - the city has been saddled with well-meaning mayors who have been bus drivers, truant officers, short-order cooks, bar keeps and state employees because someone in their party got them jobs. Its time to move forward, no pun intended.

Anonymous said...

Please tell me what Cockayne has done to control taxes?
What ideas has he come up with?
Has he said anything specific?
He wants Parks maintained better. How?
He wants the West End patrolled, How?

Ken, give us some specifics please.

Anonymous said...

I would vote for Minor if he was in my district. That was a well thought out and explained argument in favor of the COO.

At least one democrat is moving Bristol Forward.

Anonymous said...

For that matter, what has any of the council, including the mayor done?

At least Ken is taking stands on issues that the thinks will help. He is attacking the GASB 45 issue which could mean huge savings and the COO, which many believe will save money in the long run also.

I am unsure where he said he wanted to parks kept up, or increased efforts exactly. He did offer his own money as a reward though.

Anonymous said...

Minor is right! Nobody want to move their business to this city. Its run like a friggin club! With a bunch of popular vote folks that have no clue how to run a company.

Anonymous said...

"Craig is right - the city has been saddled with well-meaning mayors who have been bus drivers, truant officers, short-order cooks, bar keeps and state employees because someone in their party got them jobs. Its time to move forward, no pun intended."

Craig is wrong ~ The fact that our mayors were/are common folk who work and live in our community gives them insight that no "hired hand" can provide. They actually care about our city. They were/are all respected individuals who were CHOSEN by the voters (not just the members of their party). Bristol IS moving forward (pun intended).

Anonymous said...

May 10, 2008 7:17 AM:

Dittos!

Anonymous said...

I agree 1:11 - The fact that our mayors are all "regular folk" who have a vested interest in Bristol makes them much more qualified for the position of leadership.

With rising gas prices, dropping real estate values, health care costs spiralng out of control,the entire country is worried, and unfortunately some political hacks are taking advantage of that worry to advance their own political agenda.

NO COO!

Anonymous said...

Each of the past 5-6 mayors were very much involved in the community before they became mayor.

Council, Boards, Busineses, PTAs, other organizations and so on.

They all offered much, they all were committed to Bristol.

Keep that in mind when you think about change.

And, think about supporting those that do do what is right, instead of letting a few malcontents dump all over them, verbally and otherwise.

Anonymous said...

The proposal was SOLIDLY defeated by the team 5 votes to 2. I think Minor's vote was symbolic just so it did not look like a partisan vote. I reaLly don't think he was in favor of the proposal because he usually doesn't flip flop without an explanation and holds his ground on his views. Remember that councilmen know the votes going in to the meeting. Anyway, time to move on with the next great political outsider's meaningless and insignificant proposal to turn Bristol. Or are we going to again waste the city clerk's office time and money with a referendum?

Anonymous said...

Nooo....Minor's not campaigning for Mayor 2010 is he???

Anonymous said...

"They were/are all respected individuals who were CHOSEN by the voters (not just the members of their party). Bristol IS moving forward (pun intended)"

-This is a bit of an exageration. Mr. Ward won by 300 votes. Nicatro usually received between 55% to 65% of the vote (depending on the credibility of the opposing candidate). That's what's called "the tyrany of the majority". In this case it's registered Democrats who would usually vote for Humpty-Dumpty if he/she were a Democrat. Let's not forget that Gerry Couture was elected mayor, luckily he was disposed of before he could do any real damage, although someone grabbed Rosenthals buttucks. Is that why we pay them $100,000? In this day and age there is no room for unprofessionalism, cronie-ism, or silly politics.

Cutting spending if forWard thinking said...

"The team" is inept. We need a new "team". This isn't the most important thing in the world to me anyway. At least Mayor Ward has his head in the right place in regards cutting the budget.

Anonymous said...

All Minor needs to do now is switch to the GOP side! He's a Liberman in the making!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say, Mayor Ward is just a little late in caching on to the problems.

He should have moved weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

4:28 You republicans ought to talk . You would run a monkey if possible. Mainly because you can't get viable candidates. You should run if your so smart !

Anonymous said...

As you can see, everyone who had union support voted no!

Neo-con said...

Thank heaven for Lieberman!

Anonymous said...

Block-head...get out now!

Anonymous said...

Sorry to say, Mayor Ward is just a little late in caching on to the problems.

He should have moved weeks ago.

May 11, 2008 10:14 AM

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Sorry ..... the mayor was much too busy @ E.S.P.N. plotting the american legion fiasco to be concerned about something so trivial as the City Budget .

Anonymous said...

May 10 4:04

There is no Mayoral compaign in Bristol in 2010.

In fact, there may never be one again.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry ..... the mayor was much too busy @ E.S.P.N. plotting the american legion fiasco to be concerned about something so trivial as the City Budget ."

~ Tsk, tsk 2:38: First you're on the "Bristol Strikes Out" blog complaining that the mayor didn't put enough time or effort into the "LEGION FIASCO"...now here you are a few minutes later complaining that he spent too much time??? A little confused are we?

Anonymous said...

More whining from the Know-it-alls ?
Ho-hum

Anonymous said...

If you had all voted for Zoppo, we wouldn't be in the mess we are right now!

Anonymous said...

Or if the Republicans had supported Stortz.

Seems like we lost two good people because each party had some power hungry people who put the city second.

Anonymous said...

Who knows, they might come back.