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Monday, December 10, 2012

Progress Doesn’t Come From Ultimatums

Last Sunday, the Daily Times devoted an extensive amount of space, words and pictures on its front page, news and opinion pages about disputes in Salisbury city government. There were, unfortunately, numerous inaccuracies and misleading statements.

For example, the aggressive dog ordinance isn’t delayed because of council. I scheduled it six times for discussion since July as requested by the administration. Each time the city administrator asked that it be postponed. My space to respond is very limited on a monthly basis by the newspaper, so I will have to refer readers for a fuller correction of the record.

Today, I’d like to talk about one step for reducing conflict.

The Annapolis chief financial officer who spoke at a Maryland Municipal League (MML) conference a couple of years ago discussed 5-year budgeting. His audience was a mix of municipal legislators, mayors and administrative staff members, but his wise advice was directed to the mayors and staff:

“Get early buy-in from your councils.”

Good advice. It is the council that makes policy, so it’s good business to get these decision-makers on board early to move a goal forward, rather than surprising them with an ultimatum at the end of the process. This is true whether it’s a mayor-council form of government or a city manager-council form of government.

I have been asking the administration for an early buy-in process since I was first elected in 2007. Voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the council functioning as a rubber stamp.

Grants are a perfect opportunity to apply the early buy-in principle – not the small, “reimbursement” grants (such as police overtime), but those that involve city assets (such as real estate) or a large commitment of resources in the future, whether required as a “match” or not.

For the grant that added four new police officers to our force, the federal government required the legislative body’s approval for applying. This ensured that the budget makers were aware of, understood and prepared to meet the grant’s financial and resource obligations.

The result? Salisbury applied as a unified government, prepared for future obligations. The city got four new officers – and everyone was spared the current dramas.

The recent grant for additional firefighters did not have an early buy-in process, resulting in unnecessary drama. Even when grant-making agencies don’t require proof of application submission approval from the legislative body, they often expect that the council is informed and concerns are already addressed. After all, the city government – which by charter means the mayor and the council – is making application, not just the mayor’s office.

The council did not vote down the grant for additional firefighters as the Daily Times erroneously reported. The grant was not moved forward for a vote due to the lack of information in a short window for consideration.

The technical difference is important. If the council had voted to accept the grant right away, the taxpayers could have been on the hook each year for the $400,000 benefits mistake in the grant application that Council Vice President Debbie Campbell’s questions uncovered. Some want to label that “micro-managing,” but there is nothing “micro” about $400,000.

Early “buy-in” also promotes a good reputation and relationship with higher government agencies because the city government is applying with a unified voice. No council should be politically cornered to approve a grant for which they have insufficient information or sincerely feel the terms of a grant aren’t in the best interest of our city. Don’t place these valuable relationships or the city’s reputation at risk in the first place and they won’t be.

Progress does not come from ultimatums. Ultimatums create political drama and divisiveness, which drains time, money, resources and emotions. An early buy-in process is common to success in business and government, identifying and solving problems in a timely and effective manner.

Terry Cohen is president of the Salisbury City Council.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this site link. Wasn't aware of it.
Good for the council to have their own outlet/forum.

Anonymous said...

The outlet/forum is just Cohen and Campbell's, not the council's. They felt it was important to get info out there the press seldom did and to make it easier for the public to know things that get discussed in work sessions and such.

Comegys, Smith, Shields and the Daily Times tore into them for having it, as though Campbell and Cohen were doing some secret overthrow of the government.

Can't wait for Salisbury to come into the 21st century. Or even the late 20th.

Anonymous said...

My Christmas wish is for the DT to do something correct, IYO.

Anonymous said...

If they are so concerned then why is Teresa Gardner, Richard Hoppes and other corrupt department heads still working for the city?

Anonymous said...

1:50, the council can't rid of department heads on their own. I don't think they can even start the process. I think that's the mayor's gig. If you know there is corruption, use the Whistleblower law and get the ball rolling.

Kudos to Cohen for taking time to respond to the DT's garbage. You can see right through them.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
If they are so concerned then why is Teresa Gardner, Richard Hoppes and other corrupt department heads still working for the city?

December 10, 2012 1:50 PM

Good point!

Anonymous said...

If by corrupt you mean incompetent, then you're using the wrong word.

Anonymous said...

Joe, I don't subscribe to the rag so I don't know what Cohen is responding to. But I went over to the blog she has and I have to say, this is some of the most intelligent public official commentary I have seen in years. I wish more of them gave a d a m n like this. I would rather have 5 good decisions made by my government than 50 bad or so-so ones. Ireton seems so desperate to have his name on things that he's forgotten what he is supposed to be doing this for. Cohen has pegged the problems with the Daily Times right on and remained out of the gutter.

All this is to say thank you, Joe, for posting this since I don't take the rag. I got sick of it long ago. And I am so sick of reading the spew that comes out of Washington that I skip over a lot of those posts here now. But I decided to read these local posts and it made me think how different things could be if we could elect more real people like this instead of political hacks.