Sunday, April 12, 2009

How Esslinger Should Appoint the Next Member of the Council

So the NW has another editorial pushing for a Steve Cummings appointment to the council this morning. It's a lovely sentiment, but we're pretty sure it's not going to happen, so rather than continue advocating for an unlikelihood, maybe it's time to look at the reality of the situation.

The new council gets seated on April 21st -- nine days from now. If the council waits for a special election in November, the council will have six members for six months. That effectively creates a situation where what would normally be a three vote minority becomes enough to scuttle any given vote. That means Esslinger has to find three other votes until a full council is seated. By making an appointment to the council Esslinger essentially creates a second vote for himself, which means he only has to convince two other seats on the council to vote with him on any particular issue.

This is a no brainer.

So instead of worrying which one of the also-rans should fill the seat, we should perhaps start examining how the seat should be filled.

One way this could all be settled is by Esslinger showing up to his swearing in on the 21st and saying "I'm appointing X to the council, let's vote!" To the best of my knowledge, he has every right to do this. This may seem like an efficient way to correct the problem, but lacks any degree of transparency whatsoever.

Esslinger says he wants folks to submit resumes and that he'll make his decision from a pool of applications. He certainly has the ability to do that, but if he wants this process to have any legitimacy at all he's going to have to make the appointment out in the open.

Here's how we suggest he does this.

1.) Esslinger should come out with a target date for filling the seat and a deadline for submissions. We think May 15th or thereabouts is more than enough time to send resumes to City Hall and that the seat should be filled by the end of June. Sooner is fine, but if this process starts to take much longer it will likely be the result of far bigger issues.

2.) Applications should be open to the public. The city deserves to see who Esslinger thinks is qualified and who isn't. Ideally, we'd like to see all the submissions posted online. If one person is clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the field, then it should be obvious to most people and we can all move on to letting the council vote. Since we doubt such a candidate will emerge...

3.) Esslinger announces a group of "finalists." This will give the candidates a two to four week period to be interviewed by both the Mayor and the rest of the council and will allow each finalist's supporters to lobby the council members, write letters to the editor, etc. This will also give the rest of the city time to get to know each of the finalists though Q&A's in the NW and elsewhere. And all of this is good for the eventual appointee. Requiring the finalists to do a little campaigning will help them gain credibility in the eyes of the public. No one will be able to accuse the next council member of being just a lackey to the mayor, because he or she will have gone through a "mini-campaign" of sorts to win the position. (This works both ways; the mayor gets some cover by appointing someone who had to work for the gig and not just a relative or drinking buddy or whatever.)

In a lot of ways, this is following the same sort of formula the council uses in selecting a city manager. We don't feel it should be that complicated or protracted a process, but what has been outlined above essentially combines an appointment process with a special election and in so doing removes the transparency issues associated with the former and the prohibitive cost of the latter.

Of course, we'd prefer to see the rules changed so that there is never an appointment to the council, but since those aren't the rules right now, we'll settle for this.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a very thought out process for the six Common Council members to think about. I doubt none of them have come up with anything close to what is proposed here.
Unfortunately the complexity of this proposal probably will prevent its adoption. Appointments are often filled with the egos of those making the nominations not the best course for the city.
Whatever happen, however, this is an important choice because the seventh member could end up being the swing vote.