Why Dayton doesn’t need a “strong Mayor”

The latest “silver bullet” solution to be floated by the Republican party and a few others who think they already run this town is to switch to a strong-mayor form of government. Abracadabra- and all our troubles will be gone.

I say horse-hockey and here is why.

We don’t change horses anyway- preferring to ride the same names until we can’t stand them anymore. Case in point- there have only been two incumbents beaten in a general election (who didn’t win the seat in a special) in the last 20+ years. The exception were both when unknowns ran against an incompetent. Turner beat Dixon by 400 votes, and Leitzell beat McLin by 800. Both incumbents had been tarnished by election time- and had alienated the union power base that swings votes.

[I STAND CORRECTED] – Turner was beat by McLin in 2001- by a little over 1000 votes- as Turner was getting ready to run for Congress for a seat that was made for him.

If we can’t hold the people we now elect accountable for incompetence, why would changing the structure change things?

It’s funny- when Dean Lovelace couldn’t get elected the first three general elections he ran in- he wanted to change the Commission to a vote by district. Once he won- in a special election, you never heard another peep out of him about districts. He’s also been re-elected over and over, despite having cost the taxpayers dearly with his intervention in the hiring processes- and wasted time passing ordinances that got stomped by the state as soon as they were passed as law.

But- the real reason we don’t need a strong mayor comes down to the same reason John Patterson didn’t want one back in 1913- he was trying to take the influence peddling and politics out of a professional organization. As it is- the mayor and the commission are all careful of the unions- leaving the city manager to do the dirty work of negotiations. Put an elected mayor back in – and the unions will have an even stronger arm in deciding who they will bargain with. Right now- they have to have at least three commissioners in their pocket- which they’ve been able to do, make it just the mayor- and look out.

It’s not like we’ve had stellar candidates to run this city either by election or selection anyway. The city manager job pays $150K a year, the mayor gets $45K – even combining these two positions barely breaks $200K which isn’t even 2/3rds of what the Dayton Development Coalition pays their slick talking CEO. You want to make the Dayton mayor the most powerful person in the region- you are going to have to both pay the position- and give them a regional bully pulpit.

The real solution is to regionalize government, and then have a strong Mayor- paying one person to be Mayor- instead of having the current 28 or so Minor Mayors with their little fiefdoms. Do that- and you have a program worth considering.

Making the Mayor of Dayton more powerful is just one more attempt at diverting attention away from what’s really killing our city (greater) and not solving a single problem.

If the City is desperate for strong leadership- here is a better solution- stop electing Mayors- and let the four commissioners hire a City Manager/Mayor who has a vote on the Commission. And, when you decide to fire the Mayor/City Manager- the people who hire him have to go back up on the ballot. Now that would be interesting.

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11 Responses

  1. Civil Servants Are People, Too September 20, 2010 / 6:42 pm
    For once, sir, I agree completely.

    (I bet you’d never expect to see those words!)

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  2. Another Civil Servant September 21, 2010 / 10:00 am
    Wow, I never, in my wildest dreams, that for the third time reading one of your blogs that I would have agreed with you three times in a row.  I believe that, somewhere deep in the earth, freezing is beginning to take place!  Dave, you make good points, and I actually never really considered the Union aspect of the issue.  What really is starting to bother me about the current Mayor is that he is relaying on his Council of Advisors to make decisions and recommendations, skirting the City Commission in that aspect.  From my view, these folks aren’t even residents of the city.  Greg Gantt, while a nice enough guy, lives in Oakwood and only has an office downtown.  I guess it is time for me to get back on my soapbox and start the movement to elect A.J. for Mayor!  His judgeship should be abuot up, his kids off to college and he does reside in the city.  OK, time to step off my soapbox…

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  3. Brian September 21, 2010 / 10:59 am
    @ACS:  Welcome to the discussion!     I don’t think I understand your concern about the Mayor’s council of advisors.   He meets with them, and whatever they decide becomes his recommendation.  He then brings that idea to the City Council and, no matter how many people have advised him, he has just One vote in a council of 5.  I think it’s great that he is bringing in ideas from “the real world” rather than perhaps getting stale with the same 4 folks.

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  4. Jeff Dziwulski September 21, 2010 / 9:18 pm
     The real solution is to regionalize government, and then have a strong Mayor- paying one person to be Mayor- instead of having the current 28 or so Minor Mayors with their little fiefdoms. Do that- and you have a program worth considering.

    …and you propose an unrealistic solution.  In fact the most unrealistic solution.  Unrealistic in the political sense.  Even the two cities in the region that did move to regional government, Indianapolis and Louisville, didn’t eliminate suburban munciple governments.   Lexington, which also has regional government, didn’t have suburban governments, so this wasn’t an issue there when they moved to urban county government.

    The confusion in Dayton is that the mayor isn’t really a mayor in the classical sense, so the the title is misleading and expectations unrealistic.  Going back to the original intent of council-manager government might be the more honest and politically realistic solution. It would address the issues of unrealistic expectations that go with the title “mayor”.

    The original theory of government for Dayton was the corporate model.  The a city commission would operate as a corporate board of directors, selecting among themselves a chairman of the board.  This board of directors would hire a CEO to operate or administer the corporation..or city government…and execute policy.  The board would set policy and approve the budget and provide oversite/direction to the CEO.   This CEO would be the city manager.   As in a corporation the CEO wouldn’t have a vote on the board but would be answerable to the board. 

    Though the theory is that such an approach would be above politics, in reality a faction could capture and control the commission via bloc voting or aggressive political organization and mobilization, as you note with the unions.  

    Another flaw is that a feature of the system (at-large elections of a commission) would be non-responsive to neighborhood and community concerns, diluting neighborhood activism.  This was the historic experience of Dayton during the 1960s, where a non-responsive, technocratically oriented city government ran headlong into the community organizing driven by the “maximum feasible participation” mandate of the Great Society social programs such as Model Cities.  The priority board concept arose from this conflict between social/neighborhood activism and a government system specficially designed to be non-responsive to (or, at best, dilute) geographically bounded neighborhood interests.   So there is this overlay of a quasi-ward system (the priority boards) on the at-large commission system. 

    Seems like it would be simpler to do-away with the priority boards and return to ward elections of the commission, which would bring politics..as in neighborhood represenation and negotiation and debate of conflicting interests…back into government.  

    Or return to the pure commission-manager “corporate model” of a board of directors with a chairman, and a CEO answerable to that board.

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  5. Hall September 22, 2010 / 9:44 am
    What really is starting to bother me about the current Mayor is that he is relaying on his Council of Advisors to make decisions and recommendations, skirting the City Commission in that aspect.  From my view, these folks aren’t even residents of the city.

    Maybe Gary feels that different ideas are needed to make progress. Most of the council members have been there a few years and don’t exactly come up with “fresh” or “big” ideas. They seem to like the status quo, don’t you agree? In the end, many of the people Gary consults with a successful, business professionals and the city itself is a business.
    As for where some or all of them live, you’re basing that on some imaginary lines drawn on a map? Do you think they’ll propose stupid, impractical ideas with an ulterior motive to make the city fail, you know, because they don’t live in the city ?

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  6. David Lauri September 22, 2010 / 10:34 am
    there have only been two incumbents beaten in a general election (who didn’t win the seat in a special) in the last 20+ years. The exception were both when unknowns ran against an incompetent. Turner beat Dixon by 400 votes, and Leitzell beat McLin by 800.
     
    Did the mayoral election of 2001 not happen, the one in which McLin beat Turner by 1,174 votes?

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  7. David Esrati September 22, 2010 / 12:01 pm

    @David L- thanks for reminding me- again it was close, a lot of money was spent- but, all that knew- knew Turner had his wheels ready to run for Tony Hall’s seat…

    It was an I don’t care thing for him.

    But- I stand corrected.

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  8. Jeff Dziwulski September 22, 2010 / 7:15 pm
    What really is starting to bother me about the current Mayor is that he is relaying on his Council of Advisors to make decisions and recommendations, skirting the City Commission in that aspect.  From my view, these folks aren’t even residents of the city.

    On one hand there is a discourse that the suburbs and city are intertwined and interdependent, that a failed city will drag the suburbs down, too.  On the other there is the parochial sentiment illustrated by the above remark that implies non-residents should have no, or, at best, a limited voice in the affairs of the city.  That non-residents should not be providing advice or opinion on city affairs.

    It’s a credit to Leitzell that he has moved beyond such parochialism.  A good sign that he is 
    willing form a group of advisors with expertise beyond his, to provide recommendations and guidance.   

    And as far as his putting a roof on his house being “controversial” , I see him acting as a role-model for other property owners.  One of the issues with Dayton is the lack of curb appeal due to property owners not taking care of their property, not doing the kind of upkeep and improvements Lietzell is doing.

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