Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lynnwood Mayor's Rebuttal

Man, it just keeps getting better.

The timing of the release of the mayor's rebuttal could not have been more perfect, coming as it does hard on the heels of the council's stripping the mayor's only ally of the office of council president.

Realistically, it is impossible to arrive at any conclusion other than that the council has abused its authority twice now, egregiously and with relatively flagrant contempt for the will of the people.

First (and worst) in censuring, calling for the resignation of, and curtailing the authority of a popularly elected mayor. However much individual councilpersons personally dislike the mayor, as a citizen I view their actions as a direct attempt to undermine my vote and the democratic process generally. Whether they like the mayor or not is irrelevant to me, I voted for him. Whether the mayor acts like an ass to city employees is irrelevant to me, I voted for him.

Second, last night they took similarly punitive action against the mayor's only ally on council.

And after all this, we finally, finally hear the mayor's side of the story, and it becomes relatively clear that this taxpayer-funded witch hunt of an investigation was not merely inconclusive, but was an out-and-out sham, deliberately designed to portray the mayor in as unfavorable a light as possible.

In short, it seems to have been what I've thought it was all along: an exercise in good old fashioned character assassination by city employees and council in an effort to preclude the mayor from making necessary cuts to the career-bureaucrat mandarins amid a budgetary shortfall unlike anything the city has experienced thanks to the Great Recession. This benefits the bureaucracy since the mayor is now not able to make cuts (his ability to fire or lay people off was specifically removed), so their taxpayer-funded, steady-gig jobs and primo benefits plans are safe again. And it benefits council because they arrogate to themselves powers that rightly belong to the executive branch, and if this council has done nothing else, they've proven themselves over-the-top madly hungry for power.

Your government at work, people of Lynnwood. Lying to you, working to nullify your vote, and trying desperately to make sure you continue funding an overbloated bureaucracy with your tax dollars. And if you're out of work yourself? Well, tough shit, losers. Sucks to be you!

Basically their message to us is pretty clear:

Lynnwood City Council Prez Stripped of Office

The melodrama continues unabated in Lynnwood as city council, in an unexpected move, stripped Ted Hikel of the council presidency. Obviously he'll remain on the council but a different councilman (Mark Smith) is now the president.

I'm of mixed minds on this move. On the one hand, Hikel has been criticized as being the mayor's puppet on city council and I can see some validity in that, to a degree. On the other hand, is it really fair to call the guy a "puppet" simply because he shares the mayor's politics? The same could be said of any politician on council who happens to find himself in agreement with the mayor politically.

I suppose at the end of the day I'm fine with putting somebody less friendly to the mayor in the council president's role, if only because I am a huge fan of the legislative and executive branches being at perpetual loggerheads. Not that I like fighting for fighting's sake (which does seem to be the rule and not the exception in Lynnwood). But a healthy dose of confrontation reassures me as a citizen that the system of checks and balances is working as it should and we don't have a good ole boys' club up there colluding with each other without the public's best interest in mind.

I have to say, though, that I really need to hand it to Mr. Hikel. I have great respect for the man. When the mayor was censured and stripped of some of his executive powers recently by a city council kow-towing to basically an angry mob, he stood his ground and to a great degree gave as good as he got while the remainder of the council went hog wild shamelessly making political hay and sucking up to the city employees and their unions. All things considered I remain unconvinced that there was much if any merit to having taken that move and that it was dirty politics, pure and simple. Hikel held them accountable and highlighted some of the hypocrisy of those complaining most stridently, much to their embarrassment and much to my satisfaction.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Government Work---Nice Work if You Can Get it.

The Herald has run a follow-up to an article they published back in July, and I'm gratified to see a more balanced perspective presented.

This topic was worthy of revisiting, and I'm gratified to see that this time the perspective is far more balanced and realistic. Whether intended or not, the July article came across as a partisan apologia on behalf of state government workers, depicting them as hapless victims and even going so far as to preemptively scold would-be critics who would have the audacity to point out that, unlike many, they at least still had jobs.

I'm far more inclined to feel sympathy for some of the people featured in the current article than in the previous one. The single mom with a kid featured in today's piece who makes $32,000 per annum is a far cry from the clerk previously featured who lamented the loss of one measly day's pay and its attendant deleterious impact on her ability to have "shopping sprees." People were righteously indignant, mortified and outraged to the point of red-faced fury at that kind of "let them eat cake" remark, especially coming as it does from a steady-gig government worker whose paycheck is funded by tax-paying citizens who are frequently out of work themselves, and chronically so despite their best and most persistent efforts to find employment in this devastated economy.

The larger issue here is the relatively astonishing level of narcissism, selfishness, and outright greed evidenced by many government employees, the unions who represent them, or both. Couple that with what appears to be a breezy and blithe unconcern for those who are out of work and suffering good and hard for it, and it's no surprise that a lot of people who were formerly supportive of, or at least ambivalent toward government workers, are now screaming for their self-absorbed heads on so many platters.

We see this unbelievable government-employee dynamic right here in Lynnwood, as the Herald reported just the other day in an article that explained some of the cuts that the city is contemplating in order to deal with the reality of a $20 million dollar plus shortfall. Right there, Johnny on the spot, is an outspoken government employee imperiously declaring that she is "hopeful the council is not actually going to implement the cuts" to staff. Not a single word of concessions, not a hint as to a proposed alternate solution, just a show of disbelief that layoffs could even be considered.

The worldview of public sector employees truly is something quite apart from the reality the rest of us face daily.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Mayor, Council, Staff and Unwholesome Alliances

Now that some time has passed with regard to the recent melodrama involving the mayor and the city council's censure of him, I believe I can sum up the whole state of affairs pretty neatly:

What a soap opera.

But with the benefit of a little hindsight and some more recently developing stories regarding Lynnwood's fiscal state of affairs and its plans to implement layoffs to counter them, I believe it's relatively clear what really went down and why.

As a longtime resident of Lynnwood, I was surprised indeed when I read the initial reports that the city council intended to censure the mayor without the public's having seen any evidence as to why (the investigative report having been secret at the time of their vote). I was more surprised when they went even further, stripping him of some of his executive authority and calling for his resignation.

Initially, I naturally thought that the reasoning behind such a draconian course of action must be based on evidence that is completely and unambiguously compelling, and that there must be an issue of urgency in rushing this to a vote without full (or indeed any) disclosure to the voting public. Surely the mayor must be a monstrously abusive browbeater and, more to the point, a sexual harasser extraordinaire.

Imagine my surprise when the report was finally released and proved nothing of the kind. As in, nothing remotely of the kind. Not even in the ballpark. Basically it "proved" (since he-said-she-said testimony is apparently proof nowadays) that the mayor is difficult to work with, and may be patronizing, condescending and rude. In short, a Type A, Theory X manager.

From what I can tell, that's exactly what the employees of this city need, and here's why.

To begin with, it's fairly clear what's really going on here. To set the stage, you must remember that Lynnwood's city council has never been able to get along with the mayor, and the loggerheads mentality goes significantly beyond the natural and desirable state of mutual antagonism between legislative and executive branches that is the hallmark of a healthily functioning government. In Lynnwood's case, a number of councilpersons either have run or are likely planning to run for the mayor's job, so they have a vested personal interest in knocking him down, one way or another, by hook or by crook.

Add to this the fact that the city's employees are, with good reason, scared witless that their "sure thing" government jobs are no longer such a sure thing at all.

And so you see classic power politics at work. Coucil wants to do all it can to hamper and hobble the mayor, if only for spite it sometimes seems, and over and above that, individual councilpersons have their eyes greedily set on the mayor's job for themselves.

City employees are terrified that they'll be laid off due to the economic collapse and the fact that Lynnwood is something like $25 million in the hole. And this mayor, it seems, is just the type of no-nonsense manager who will not hesitate to perform the necessary layoffs.

So it's natural that the city's employees would collude with the council to rob the mayor of his ability to terminate employment.

To the extent that I and every other resident of this town have the privilege of subsidizing these people's continued employment at the very time that untold numbers of us are unemployed ourselves, I find this scenario, well, I suppose "unseemly" is the diplomatic way of putting it.

But I can tell you this. In light of everything that has transpired to date, I will be voting against every councilmember who voted to take this action against the mayor. In some cases, it will be difficult because I support their stances on other issues. But at the end of the day, some things are beyond the pale and we have long surpassed that benchmark in this fiasco.

And I will sure as hell vote for Geoff, if he can find it within himself to run again for mayor when this term is up.