At the South East Priority Board candidates’ forum on Thursday night I got asked about my position on changing the priority board system. Simply stated, I believe we need to draw our own boundaries- by neighborhood, instead of letting State lawmakers gerrymander voting precincts so that Mike Turner could win OH-3 and John Boehner could win OH-8, in an area that used to vote Democrat for years (Tony Hall). Makes sense if you think about it, even a little bit.
There is also the issue of having seven priority boards- that are unequal, since 40% of the population is now in South East. Commissioner Whaley and Commissioner Williams and the Mayor have had years in office to address this fundamental flaw in our “citizen participation” system, but have done nothing- except cut staff and funding. My proposal is to make the neighborhood organization leader the representative to the city- and to have them meet directly with the City Manager at least four times a year.
Compare this with the current Priority Boards situation- where not only did the Priority Boards set the number one priority last year as “enforce the laws on the books” especially housing and safety laws, they briefed the City Commission and none of the three incumbents could tell the people at the meeting what that “number 1 priority” was. FAIL. Yes Gary Leitzell, a Priority Board chairperson, knew the answer, and I did not.
When you also consider that many priority board seats are unfilled, that some neighborhoods end up with more reps than others (South Park has 3 by voting precinct plus one neighborhood rep) the whole system seems flawed. In addition, when the system was well funded they not only had at least 3 full-time staff per Board and a pool of money to use on the priorities- and now that’s practically all gone.
We could have spent a few hundred thousand and instead implemented a 311 system to handle and track citizen complaints- and actually have a reporting system that provides data on how many cases opened and closed. San Antonio implemented their 311 system for $200,000 which is less than what we spend on salaries of Priority Board staff in a year.
The ability to identify and track citizen complaints and rate the solutions and close rates gives us real data to evaluate the City Manager’s performance- and a citizen can evaluate the way our Commission holds the City Manager accountable. Not only do we get a near real time system- we also put City employees in charge of customer service (what they are paid for) instead of asking citizens to do it on a volunteer basis. It shouldn’t be so much work to have the city we pay taxes for.
A lot of Priority Board people have stated they won’t vote for me because I’m going to kill their already dead system, but the reality is, the other commissioners have now gone on record saying there need to be changes, they just refuse to specify what they would do. Judging from their inability to introduce new ideas, new systems, or even have a discussion in public about them- you should be able to reach a logical conclusion: it’s time for a change on the Commission.