Last year University City resident, David Stokes wrote an article that describes how other Council/City Manger governments in our area have become controlled by the City Manager and a few members of Council, deliberately excluding some elected members of Council. Mr. Stokes addressed the issue of who has access to information and who does not and states:
"…in areas of potential disagreement between a city manager and other city officials, the elected officials are certainly at an information disadvantage. This can become especially true for elected officials who may be in the political minority on their legislative body. A city manager working closely with a political majority can readily shut out other officials from the debate."
HIs article is attached below and describes how our University City government is working now.
For example last Tuesday evening, while attending the Police Focus Group meeting, the Director of Public Works and Parks announced that the City was proposing a $30,000,000 Bond Issue to be on the ballot sometime this year. This was the first time I have heard of this. Council members should be involved in the making of policy, not informed of a policy decision by a Staff member at a public meeting.
So what will the $30M cover? The Director of Public Works and Parks told the attendees at the Focus group that a committee of 6 composed of City Manager Lehman Walker, Director of Public Works and Parks Richard Wilson, Mayor Shelley Welsch, Councilmember Stephen Kraft, and residents John Solodar and Ed Schmidt met that day to decide what should be included in the bond issue. Mr. Wilson estimated that $5 M would cover the cost of either renovation or new-build and the remaining would be applied mainly for Public Works and Parks with the majority going to streets and sidewalks. I am concerned that we have gone from financing a renovated/new police station (a capital improvement) with a bond issue to financing the paving of our streets and fixing sidewalks, generally considered maintenance, for a cost of around $20-25M with this bond issue. Paving streets is not a capital improvement (defined as "lasts 5 or more years and costs more than $25,000"). We will be repairing and repaving those streets several times over the course of the loan and borrowing that money for the long term could well supplant other improvements or new building we may want to make in the future.
What is going on? Are we now relabeling maintenance issues (streets) as capital improvement so that we can justify a bond issue, when the basic problem is questionable annual budgeting for street work?
Whether or not we, as voters, decide that we want this bond issue - or another bond issue that finances only the police station is an issue for next August when it looks like we may hold a special election to decide this. What is most important is that major policy issues are being formulated without the knowledge of some members of this Council. This was true of the potential outsourcing of EMS - where I first learned of this from the posting of the Request for Proposal (RFP) for outsourcing EMS and not from the City Manager, and now this proposed $30M Bond Issue. How can we do the job you elected us to do without the complete information that must be provided by the City Manager? Those of us who are not in favor are being denied information and shut out of the debate and decisions — decisions which are made on your behalf.
As Mr. Stokes wrote: “Good government deserves open information, not restricted access and knowledge chokepoints.” U Citians deserve good government and good governance.