Last night (10/18/2007) a public debate on the issue of Syracuse City’s form of government was held in the Syracuse High Auditorium (665 South 2000 West, Syracuse, Utah, 84075). Most in attendance wanted to pose questions to persons on both sides, others came to become informed about the City Council’s change. My family and I came because we felt it was our civic duty (even my 8-year old Cub Scout came just to see the process).
Currently, the city has a Mayor/CEO form of government. The referendum would switch the city to a City Council/City Manager form of government — which many cities in Utah have.
Apparently there was some confusion between the Mayor and the City Council regarding where certain powers were (or were not) held. According to members of the City Council, the Mayor acted outside his powers regarding certain contracts and bids — by upholding the Mayor’s actions (rather than calling for censure or nullifying the contracts and changes in question), the Council in effect approved of the Mayor’s actions. The Mayor continued to act in the manner which he felt was his capacity. This ultimately brought the City to a cross-roads: The Mayor (acting as CEO) and the City Council BOTH approving expenditures, neither being wholly accountable and acting as checks and balances for the other.
Simply put: the system was broken.
The Mayor and the City Council both brought up recommendations to “fix” the problem. The Mayor’s solution would put the position of Mayor clearly as CEO, the City Council’s would place the CEO title and responsibilities on a City Manager who would report to the City Council, the Mayor would remain as the “Chairman of the Board” or head of the City Council.
The City Council acted, implementing their plan without much public involvement, and without much fanfare. In the debate, the City Council said that this was done intentionally, to save the Mayor embarrassment and to take care of things quickly and quietly.
The Debate that Wasn’t
We all came expecting a debate, with both sides arguing their points and opinions. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
When we arrived we noticed a very divisive atmosphere. The “For” table was full with half-a-dozen men in suits and ties, notebooks, laptop computers, and PowerPoint slide decks. The “Against” table was empty. I’d hoped this was an indication that the “Against” team was waiting somewhere in the wings polishing prepared statements, answers and rebuttals to questions, and ready to present a unified front and a stated entrance at the beginning of the debate.
When the Coordinator started we were told that no one that had been invited to represent the “Against” side had accepted. A call was offered to anyone who felt qualified to argue “Against” the referendum; no one came forward.
A few brave souls from the audience yelled out, voicing concern about the lack of opposition — the response was that they had been invited, but for various reasons, all declined. They called for the debate to be rescheduled, or canceled — the decision was made (by the Coordinator) to continue.
Intentionally or not, it wasn’t to be a debate at all, not without both sides being represented… it was poised to be nothing more than a propaganda machine, churning out one side of the story, one set of opinions, and one course of action.
That’s not much of a debate at all… it’s a rally — and it’s not appropriate to call a rally a “debate”.
All it Takes is For Good Men to do Nothing
I couldn’t sit idly by and let the forum be hijacked by either side. So I took the stage and sat at the “Against” table.
My opening statement was short, succinct:
“My name is Joe Levi. When I came here this evening I didn’t plan on sitting behind this table. I haven’t prepared written statements or responses. I don’t have a deck of slides, figures, details, or anecdotes. I don’t know the answers to all the questions. I’m not an elected or appointed official. I don’t hold any office. I’m not running for any office. I’m just a citizen with a home and family here in Syracuse who doesn’t think that a one-sided ‘debate’ is any kind of ‘debate’ at all.”
I wasn’t as eloquent as the “paid professionals,” I’m sure I stuttered and floundered a bit. It was spur-of-the-moment and I did my best given the circumstances.
All in all, I think the City Council was also doing their best when they went about trying to fix a problem… and I thank them for doing that.
Specifically, I thank Phil Orton for being a “long-haired guy on the City Council” who brings a different perspective to Council Meetings and thank Danny Hammond for catching a $1 million “Other” line item on the 30-page City Budget. I thank the entire Council for doing their best — that’s all that we can expect.
Every member that spoke “For” the referendum said they thought they were doing the right thing at the time… but every one said, in retrospect, they would have gone about it differently.
Do it Differently; Do it Right
I don’t feel the Mayor’s recommendation nor the City Council’s recommendation appropriately “fixes” the problem.
The City Council, on the other hand, feels that their recommendation is the solution. If Referendum 1 passes, that’s it, the end. The City Council wins, the problem isn’t really fixed, but we go on, business as usual.
That’s Why I’m AGAINST Referendum 1
We, the People of Syracuse, were left out of the process. WE weren’t asked.
To regain our proper place in OUR government — to spend a message to both the Mayor and the City Council that THEY work for US. THEY are our employees. THEY can’t simply ignore US in the process.
WE need to band together and tell the Mayor and the City Council that WE should have been involved. WE need to have the problem fixed the RIGHT way.
The only way WE can do that now is to vote against Referendum 1 and force the City Council’s hand to go back to the table to fix the problem the right way — with OUR involvement.
In the end, Referendum 1 isn’t about being for the Mayor, or against the City Council. It’s not about who you like better. It’s not about who the nicer person is, or the more eloquent speaker. Referendum 1 is about US having a say in OUR government.
Voting yes on Referendum 1 means the City Council is in charge and we are merely spectators… how is that different from being subjects — serfs?
Voting NO on Referendum 1 means the PEOPLE (you and I) are the true seat of government. WE hold the power. THEY report to US. THEY are accountable to US. Any change to THEIR structure must come from US.
Commentary on This Blog
This is my personal blog; it contains my personal opinions. I’m not running for any office so I can be entirely blunt and not worry about offending anyone. That said, I have meant no offense or disrespect to anyone (elected officials, neighbors, fellow-residents).
I invite anyone who would like to comment on this post to do so. Comments will be moderated — regardless of side or opinion. Please be constructive and civil, but please feel welcome to participate in the discussion.
- http://188.8.131.52/search?q=cache:io0g-lzd5YoJ:www.syracuseut.com/files/page_text/CC-M-9-25-07.pdf+syracuse+high+debate+referendum&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=6&gl=us (Council Meeting minutes)
- http://citizensforsyracuse.com/ (opposite opinion)
- http://deseretnews.com/user/comments/1,5150,695218912,00.html (incorrectly titled by the Deseret News)