Dependable Erection

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A few quick thoughts on the city manager announcement

First, i'm not privy to any of the internal deliberations of council, but from reading the accounts in the Herald-Sun and the N&O, as well as Kevin's speculations at BCR, some things are apparent.

That Patrick Baker didn't have the confidence of the council was made clear earlier this week. I wrote then that i thought that situation was "inherently unstable." I didn't realize how quickly that assessment would prove to be accurate. I think there's a certain amount of fudging in the public statements from council members and from Baker, but i don't think it really pays any benefits to air that laundry publicly. Whether the notion of Baker returning to the attorney's office originated with him or with council is irrelevant in the long term.

I think Patrick has done an overall good job, given the constraints he's had to operate under, and i expect that he will be a stellar city attorney for Durham for many years to come.

Ray Gronberg brings up the idea in the HS story referenced above, that some in city government, particularly Mayor Bill Bell, are considering the possibility of having the Durham charter rewritten to get rid of the Council/City Manager system, and institute what's often called the "strong mayor" system, in which the mayor functions as the chief executive of the city, and not merely the chair of the City Council. Personally, i prefer that system over the one we have now, especially since it's been a decade at least since we've had a manager who has the authority to, you know, manage. However, it would be difficult if not impossible to have voters approve that change for any sitting mayor. I think if Bill Bell wants to leave Durham with the legacy of a strong mayor position, he'd probably have to announce that he wasn't interested in retaining the office after his current term.

The problem with that, of course, is that the city now has to go out and hire a good, no make that a damn good, city manager in the next 6 months. If you know that the current mayor is thinking about eliminating the manager's position in favor of a strong mayor, why would you even consider taking the job? So i think Bill Bell, and anyone else in favor of the strong mayor system, needs to step right up to the plate and say yea or nay that this is the direction they want the city to go in, or run the risk of interfering with the process of hiring a new manager.

One of the things that Patrick Baker did really well, in my opinion, and especially in contrast with his predecessor, was oversee the hiring of Durham's new police chief, Jose Lopez. Not only was the process fair and transparent, but i really think that Baker made far and away the best choice for Durham. I hope he is allowed to have a significant input into the hiring of his replacement.

UPDATE: Kevin's thoughts here.

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