Syracuse, Utah Referendum 1 Debate

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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).

Background

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.

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9 thoughts on “Syracuse, Utah Referendum 1 Debate

  1. Your points are very well made and appreciated. They did leave US, both you and I, out of the discussion process. I have no idea if they held a public hearing or not. I know I was not in attendance. I do know that after serving on the planning commission, the public is welcome to almost all meetings, but they CAN NOT comment unless the commission allows to hear them out or approval is granted to hold a public hearing at a later date, usually after 30 days notice is given. If not, they are escorted out of the building by the police. There is a “due process” that all govenmental procedures have to follow. It is not like the comment made by the Against side, where the CEO grabs the bull by the horns and acts out what he thinks is best at that time and moment. No one on the council has that same right or privlige either, unless he or she has prior approval to do so from all council members, including the Mayor.

    This is what had been happening and that’s why the council stepped up to the plate to ensure that The Mayor is held accountable for his decisions that he personaly extends. He had been the only one making them and felt like it was his right as the CEO. They fired or asked to retire Mike Moyes, City Admin, over this same issue. They collectively as a council, did not like what was going on. Their are others that I’ve personally spoken with off the record who are currently employed by Syracuse City and they confirmed the same and made further allegations of unreported misdeeds.

    Without the city council taking the stand that they are now taking, it would have been left up to YOU and I to make that judgmental decision every 4 years in the voting booth. The Council obviousily did not feel that was adequate protection for US as citizens. I wonder what was the Mayor’s position when these closed door meetings first started taking place? I’m sure he was there and didn’t run away like he did the other day when the supposed debate took place? What was his opinion back then? Let’s go to the minutes to see what was said. If he wasn’t in attendance, then why did we elect him? I did like your terminalogy of the name you called the debate.

    The Mayor’s proposal is very similar to that of the council’s except that he does not want to be accountable to anyone other than himself. He reports to know one and yet his side kick, the City Administrator, reports only to him, not the governing body. If he were to take out that specific language, then I’m sure there would be no dispute over who had the designation of CEO. If the Mayor wants that title, let him have it. However, He should still have to report to the governing body prior to taking any action. If he doesn’t, then he should be in violation of the law. Why is the Mayor so insistant on getting his propasal through the way he wrote it? Does he not feel like he should be susceptible to the law as we as citizens are? Is there a law that forbids him to act out on his own recognizance without prior approval from council members? I don’t know these answers. What are his real intentions? What is he going to do with this “Blank Check” stamp of approval that he so freely waves around? As a business owner, I’d like to know… In your speech you said that you spoke to him personally, so what is his reasoning? Please help me to understand?

    The Against side was the first that made a comparison of the position of CEO to that of being the same as a business CEO. In all business plans that I have known and studied, the CEO is the sole responsible party for the growth or demise of the company. It is he that gets fired by the board when the stock is downgraded. It is he that gets rewarded with bonuses when the company out performs it’s own projections. I’m sure your familiar with Enron?

    With small busineeses, it is the CEO that even invests his own money, blood, sweat and tears to build it the way that he thinks is more profitable. Mistakes are made over time and adjustments are made to fine tune it. All in all, that CEO gets credit or discredit for it’s own policies and procedures. Then and only then do you have such authority to act as the Mayor is asking. You should be thankful that our government is NOT like a business, but rather a DEMOCRACY!

    A more sound approach is to vote for the council member who most closely resembles your same views & opinions. That way, when they do get in those closed door meetings, their vote will resonate your same feelings, hopefully. (I know it’s a little ideal thinking.)

    I am voting FOR proposal No. 1 because that is the best proposal that reflects my sentiments for a responsible Mayor to it’s people. He should not fear the undisclosed but rather embrace it and educate those who don’t have the understanding of how it will better our community.

  2. Clair,

    Thank you for your comments! We have opposite conclusions on Referendum 1, but our basis for them is remarkably similar!

    Mike Moyes (former City Administrator) was asked to retire/resign, he reported to the Mayor, so the Mayor assumed his responhsibilies. The City Council, by their support of the Mayor’s actions (rather than a statement of unsupport and refusal to honor decisions that he made that were outside his powers) in effect granted him defacto powers of CEO.

    The City Council didn’t like the decisions that he was making and decided to shift the title of CEO from the Mayor to a new City Manager. The City Council refused the request of the citizenry (you and I, and 200 people who were signatories) via a petition to withhold the vote to create the position of a City Manager and assign him/her the title of CEO — the petition asked to place the proposed change on a ballot. The City Council refused to listen to the petioners and voted to go ahead and act on their own.

    THEY refused to listen to US.

    WE took our complaint about their action to a judge who sided with the petioners and directed the measure be place on a ballot.

    In other words, 200+ petitioners AND a judge with jurisdiction agree that the City Council acted inappropriately by not involving US (the citizens) in this VERY important decision.

    So now it’s up for us to vote…

    If we side with the City Concil we’re telling them that we don’t need to be involved — that they don’t have to involve us in important decisions like this one. They’ve already shown a disregard for public input, so this will simply serve to embolden them.

    If we vote AGAINST Referendum 1 the problem is still not fixed (you and I both agree on that point), but it will send a message to the City Council that they MUST involve us. When we vote down Referendum 1 I’m certain that the City Council will bring this up again, and this time they’ll be wise to involve us.

    Together WE (You and I and the rest of the Citizens, along with the City Council and Mayor) can come up with a solution that will best suit OUR city.

    Vote NO on Referendum 1 so WE can fix it the right way.

    http://www.JoeLevi.com

  3. Bachelor’s Degree.. from what university? Provo College? Eaglegate? And in what major? Basket Weaving?

    I know several people with a bachelors degree or higher who are mentally diagnosable!!

    And IT DOES NOT SAVE THE STATE MONEY! Proponents state that the voucher program would save the $29 plus million but what about after the five years? NO MORE MONEY to the state for the student enrollment; for seven additional years. It actually cost the state millions IN THE LONG TERM!

    My biggest gripe is that it bypasses the Brown V. Board of Education since only the wealthy (most all Caucasians) can afford the additional $5,000 plus in tuition and the poor (most minorities are in this category) can not afford the additional tuition.

    How are they protected from religious extremists and white supremists oriented schools or those who are “teachers”..? Children are compelled to attend school. Schools may be totally independent, and the State law does not require any violation reporting process or student advocacy, and the school may not be subject to some Federal laws if the school has fewer than 20 employees.

  4. Hey Raven,

    I don’t mean to sound curt, but did you even read the post? Hopefully you didn’t, so let me clarify:

    This post is about Syracuse Utah’s Municipal Referendum 1 which has to do with the proposed changes to Syracuse’s form of government (particularly the title and responsibilities of “Mayor” and “City Manager”).

    Syracuse Municipal Referendum 1 has nothing to do with education, and nothing to do with vouchers…

    When you belittle my education (I have B.S. and A.S degrees in Information Systems and Technlogies, and an A.A. degree in General Studies from Weber State University, thank you for asking) but are some COMPLETELY off-topic with your comment, it really brings to focus YOUR level of education (or lack thereof) — perhaps if your parents had a choice between a private or charter school versus a public monopoly school you’d have gathered that…

    But let me comment on your comment, even thought it’s off-topic for this post:

    Regarding UTAH Referendum 1 (note, Utah is a “State”, Syracuse is a City or “Municipality” hence the difference between Utah State Referendum 1 (“vouchers”) and Syracuse Municipal Referendum 1 (“form of government”)… but I digress)… Regarding Utah’s Referendum 1, you made a comment about Brown V. Board of Education (of Topeka), which was a landmark decision of the United States Supreme Court (it overturned earlier rulings going back to Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, by declaring that state laws which established separate public schools for black and white students denied black children equal educational opportunities).

    The ruling was handed down on May 17, 1954 and stated in no uncertain terms, that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” and segregation was ruled a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Ironically, regarding gender, we can still have “separate but equal” locker rooms and rest rooms, and that’s perfectly okay? Again, I digress.)

    Vouchers don’t do that at all. Period. Vouchers enable parents (of any race, color, creed, religion, or ethnic background) to choose what school bet suits the needs of their children and offers public funds to those parents to off-set the cost differential (if any) of one school versus another. That’s it. Simple.

    I’m an ethnic minority, I’ve got papers to prove it, the Federal Government acknowlegdes my claim of Miniority Status. I think vouchers are a good thing, and (as a parent) would LOVE to be able to afford to send one of my children to a school that is more able to deal with his special needs. Right now I can’t afford that (and many caucasians wouldn’t be able to either). With a voucher system in place I’d be more able to afford it.

    Read that again: as a member of a recognized minority who has a child with special needs, I would be more able to afford an education more suited to my child WITH a voucher system than without.

    If you’re all for the NEA (a back-East, special interest, labor union) controlling what our chilren are taught without any competition… and written in to the contract is that a sub-par teacher cannot be fired, how’s that good for our children?

    Competition is a good thing. Monopoly is a bad thing. Labor unions that control a monopoly and have enough power to make it a contractual violation for firing a teacher due to poor performance is a VERY bad thing.

    Imagine if you didn’t do what your employer paid you to do, or did it very, very poorly. Your boss would write you up, and eventually fire you. And your fear of being fired would probably encourage you to work harder/smarter. Teachers in public schools don’t have that today. You know what else they don’t have? Much room to get raises. Every teacher I know wants more money, why wouldn’t they WANT to go to a private school where the school administrators could give them raises that would reflect how good of a teacher they are?

    Anyhow, that’s VERY off-topic, but hopefully it gave you something to think about. And thanks for visiting my website!

    http://www.JoeLevi.com

  5. Back on topic: a “real debate was held Saturday the 3rd of November at 10am at Syracuse Junior Highschool regarding Syracuse Utah’s Municipal Referendum 1 (“form of government”) between Mayor Panucci and Councilmember Danny Hammon.

    This debate filled approcimately 2/3 of the school’s cafeteria. Every point that Danny brought up, Mayor Panucci had a well-articulated response to, and was able to disprove most of Danny’s points. Danny, by the looks of things, deliberately left material information off his slides and made some substantial misrepresentations of timelines and City Council meetings.

    If you attended the first “debate” but not the second, please contact me (link is at the top of the page) with any questions that you may have regarding the differences.

    That said, if you were at both, please add your experiences to this comment thread!

    http://www.JoeLevi.com

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