The push for a chief operating officer grew a bit stronger Thursday with the unveiling of a new political action committee aimed at swaying voters to back the idea next month.
A website created by Choose COO features information about the proposal and a note from businesssman Craig Yarde claiming the position would save taxpayers millions of dollars.
He said a professional administrator would manage the 21 department heads and “make the city departments more efficient and effective to service us citizens and help to keep taxes down.”
Critics of the proposed charter change say the position itself will sock taxpayers for at least $200,000 annually and question whether whoever holds it will have the necessary authority to make the sorts of changes that Yarde envisions.
Yarde, the former co-owner of Yarde Metals, said that he sees a a communication problem at City Hall that requires a solution.
“At the top” of the organization chart, Yarde said, is a mayor who is set up to fail.
Yarde said that former Mayor Gerard Couture told him “he spent half his day listening to citizen complaints” and not dealing with the big issues that Bristol has to face.
Couture said Thursday that it probably wasn’t half the day, but “it was a good part of the day.”
He said, though, that he also meant the time he spent dealing with issues raised by employees and attending in-house events such as police promotions.
Couture said he’s not sure a chief operating officer is the answer, but he did recommend the city take steps “to professionalize the mayor’s office.”
Yarde said the mayor “spends every evening in board meetings, kissing babies and cutting ribbons.”
He said that instead, the mayor should be hitting up the state for money and offering a vision “to lead us to the future.”
The way it is now, Yarde said, a mayor also has to manage 21 department heads directly.
“You got to be kidding. Superman couldn't do it. Forget about it,” Yarde said.
He said that if voters approve the charter change on Nov. 4, the new chief operating officer it would create would oversee the department heads, freeing up the mayor for larger picture issues.
“The COO would use their experience to assist the mayor and [City] Council and will help in the continuity needed to maintain a long term vision for this community,” Yarde said.’
“After all we've been turning over councilmen and mayors every two years,” he said.
“Believe me, there are millions of dollars of low hanging fruit that a COO can pick without sacrificing service or jobs,” Yarde said.
It’s possible that’s true.
Couture said that his aide, former state Rep. Kosta Diamantis, saved the taxpayers $230,000 in a single afternoon when he discovered a lawyer had overbilled the city.
Couture said he wishes that the council, the mayor and solid citizens such as Yarde could get together and hash out a solution that everyone could support.
The council voted against the chief operating officer concept on a 5-2 vote, with Ward joining the opposition. It reached the ballot only because supporters gathered enough signatures over the summer to overturn the council’s rejection of the plan.
Couture said he tried to make the mayor’s office more professional by hiring a part-time aide, a position that vanished under his two successors.
An assistant for the mayor, said Couture, “would be a big benefit” for the city because “one man can’t run the whole show.”
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