Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Real cool cats

2PJs posted a funny picture of the mayor crashing Tiger's party and provide a summary of links from many around the burghosphere commenting on the mayor's uninvited attendance at the Oakmont Country Club. Mostly, the perspective is that the mayor has been embarrasing. Reading much of the commentary I began to think of how the mayor's behavior has been making a case for a council-manager style of municipal government. Other cities have this style of governance and, while it hasn't worked everywhere, there are good arguments for and against this system. In the case of Pittsburgh, the 27-year old mayor is now taking the opportunity to use the US Open as an opportunity to promote the city. Perhaps moving away from a mayor-council form of local government isn't a bad idea.

My favorite piece of Rich Lord's article is:

He led a tour of the city, touted the April finding that the city was again the Places Rated Almanac's Most Livable City, and was filmed knocking golf balls from Point State Park into the rivers.
Perfect! Another piece of trash that goes into our rivers. We were worried about mine drainage and sewer overflows (to follow in a future post) and now the figure head of the city is knocking golf balls into the river. Maybe I'll start fishing for golf balls.

Reading Lord's article we see how focused the mayor is on promoting the city. That's great in a way. Lord (both of them) knows this city needs a cheerleader. But so much so that he will "spend much of the week" there in Oakmont, 15miles from the city-county building? Since the mayor's primary concern is focused on hobnobbing and wooing golf fans and its clientele then maybe considering having a different kind of city government isn't such a bad idea.

Consider the history of the shift from mayor-council governments to council-manager governments. From City Mayors:
Council-manager government was conceived in response to entrenched one-party political machines that had dominated many city governments by the beginning of the 20th Century. During that period, party politics and corruption prevailed and were perceived as being an impediment to fair local government. Partisan elections, dominated by local political machines, limited candidates to party regulars and patronage systems prevented qualified people from serving in local government leadership positions.
As a description of the system:
The mayor, or chairman, of the council and council members are the leaders and policy makers elected to represent the community and to concentrate on policy issues that are responsive to citizens’ needs and wishes. A manager is appointed by the governing body to carry out policy and ensure that the entire community is properly served. If the manager in question does not respond to the governing body’s wishes, it has the authority to dismiss that manager at any time.

A study of North Carolina cities has found that the council-manager system needs certain contributions from the mayor in order to operate smoothly. At the very least, the mayor must take on leadership of the coordinator type to facilitate an exchange of information between the public, council, and staff and to help the council operate more effectively. The study noted that “[t]his attention to the internal dynamics of city government and relationships with the public is crucial for complete leadership. If a mayor is to shape both the process and direction of city government, he cannot ignore the coordinative dimension; he can achieve victories over the short run but may become an isolated reformer.”
Mayors, in this arrangement of city government are considered "soft" mayors because they are coordinators and their primary agenda is not concerned with policy issues. "Soft" is not considered 'less than', the roles are just different.

Applied to the Pittsburgh case, Ravenstahl would have every freedom to blow smoke to senior citizens like Elaine Lee, meet with kids who want new developments in Pgh to be green, hang out in Oakmont, and generally put his face everywhere he can (no small thanks to Lamar Advertising). The favor that is (was?) bestowed upon him would then be warranted because he would be the pretty face of the city. He could then chime in on issues but not really have to be burdened with the minutiae of city policy; like tax-payer financed campaigning, equitable street-paving, city contracting, n@. Better for everyone. Given the 'catty' email the mayor sent Shields, a cat could be a cat and the Tiger could play golf!