Council's Triple Play

IThat was in the back of the minds of council members as they rode out the clock at the December 3, 2007 meeting. President Robert Seelie called the meeting to order at 7:30 PM.

Nationwide actions of multinational corporations can trickle down to the local level. The AT&T Corporation is getting out of the pay telephone business. So many people use cellular phones now that the pay phone is no longer profitable to the company according to news reports. This means that the pay phone which is used by prisoners in the Lakewood jail needs a new operator. Global Tel Link will take over service of that phone in a contract approved by council.

But, it is the 2008 budget that is commanding the attention of this departing council because actions taken now will affect the new council’s budgeting process. Each year, a budget is prepared as required by state law. This has to be done by March 31. In order to operate the city in the first three month period, council in December usually approves a ninety day budget. However, during this year’s campaign for Mayor and the ward council seats, the prospect of increasing demands on the budget combined with only modestly increasing revenues was a prime issue. Therefore, this council wants to leave the next council and administration quicker control over the 2008 budget. It is doing this by approving a forty-five day budget that will allow the new lawmakers the ability to fashion a budget that more conforms with the fiscal concerns expressed during the campaign.

The next play in the triple play is organization. From the Lakewood City Charter – “The President and Vice President of council shall each be elected by a majority vote of Council. The member of Council present who has the longest consecutive tenure of office shall preside over the organizational meeting until the President of Council is elected.”

Thus, on January 2, 2008 Michael Dever (at large) will open the meeting at which the first order of business will be to elect a council president.

So much for the boilerplate. What is the real world process by which council elects its leaders? After looking in the mirror and thinking, “It ought to be me,” how does just one emerge? If there is an incumbent president, the position frequently continues in that member’s hands. This time, there is no incumbent with Seelie not having sought reelection.

At this time council will be one member shy because Edward FitzGerald (at large) who was mid term will presumably resign his seat by December 31, 2007 in order to assume the duties of Mayor on January 1, 2008.

So what is actually happening right now and will intensify in the next few weeks is a series of personal contacts among the members of the new council. These contacts could be one-on-one via the telephone. Perhaps there have been some breakfast get-togethers. One, two or perhaps three members will emerge as a candidate for president. Each will present their case based on skill, tenure, and/or friendship in hopes of gaining the necessary four votes. Into the mix will be the different committee chairs. Some members might have a recognized ability in the City’s finances, for instance, thereby making that person an obvious choice for chair of Finance. So, a vote for president might be given in exchange for support for a favored committee chair.

Ultimately, this new Lakewood City Council President will be responsible, perhaps more than at any other time in the City’s history, given the contentious campaigns, for moving the City’s business forward.

Finally, council will have to fill the vacancy mentioned above. It has sixty days to do this. If council does not act, the Mayor makes the appointment. Council can use any process or set any criteria it sees fit to make the appointment. In the past fifteen years when vacancies have occurred the nominee usually came from the ranks of the Lakewood Democratic Club. On the Observation Deck many posters have suggested some of the people who just ran for council but lost would be good for the seat because of a demonstrated interest in the city and the position.

These three plays will be made by council in the next few months. But to continue with the baseball analogy, they can do it ugly or pretty. We’ll be following them in the Observer and on the Observation Deck as the play unfolds.

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Volume 3, Issue 25, Posted 12:05 PM, 12.08.2007