Experience-Is It Important?
At 7:34 Council President Dever called the January 22, 2008 meeting to order. The first docket item was the committee of the whole report which recommended appointing Brian Powers to the vacant council at large seat. Council received the report then passed a resolution to appoint Powers to fill the remaining two years of that seat’s term.
Mayor Ed FitzGerald performed the honors of swearing in the new council member under the watchful gaze of Powers’ wife and two daughters.
With that seat filled, this marks the first time in the last several years that all of the council members have served fewer than two full four year terms.
Mike Dever has served since November of 2003, slightly over four years. Mary Louise Madigan was just reelected and starting on her fourth year. Kevin Butler was elected to the ward one post in November 2005 to fill the remainder of a term and was reelected this past fall giving him two years. Nickie Antonio was elected to an at large seat at the same time as Butler giving her two years tenure, also. Mike Summers (ward three), and Tom Bullock (ward two) were just elected. And, as noted above, Brian Powers (at large) was just appointed.
Will that unique characteristic have an impact on how the city government of Lakewood operates?
To answer that question it might be helpful to reexamine some of the basic theories underlying the structure of our units of government.
Perhaps the most basic principle which has informed our governmental structures has been the principle of checks and balances. By establishing processes which employ these techniques it has always been hoped that all sides of an argument and all proposals will be heard and examined without a majority or minority monopolizing or dictating governmental actions.
Taking this down to the local level, Lakewood of course has a traditional legislature and executive in order to have checks and balances. But, also, through the balancing of council jurisdictions (three at large and four ward) and staggering terms (elections every two years with at large or ward seats contested) the majority of council can almost be changed every two years. This also has the advantage of retaining either three or four members every two years for continuity. This is in contrast, to make a comparison, of the old City of Cleveland model in which all 33 council members ran every two years for election with the result of constant politicking and turmoil. In Lakewood multi-term tenure on council was the norm for at least the last 30 years.
In this most recent election, through circumstance or deliberate choice, voters have put in place this council of relatively short service. The ward two contest serves to illustrate this point. The candidates – Tom Bullock and Dan Shields – would have been first termers. However, in the campaign Bullock emphasized his new or fresh outlook while Shields emphasized his long service to the community. Bullock narrowly edged out Shields in that race. That race seemed to be the model for the other races either implicitly if there was little competition or explicitly.
Part of this theme of a new or fresh look at the way the City operates has carryover implications for this year’s budget. How a campaign slogan will translate into dollars and cents will be determined in the budget hearings. While council has been attending to the necessary organizational tasks it has also been intensively involved in the budgeting process. The meetings are conducted on a department by department basis and serve to set the framework of the city’s operations for the next year. Those meetings are being covered in the Lakewood Observer in a series of special articles written by Steve Hoffert, who brings a background of municipal employment to help analyze the budgeting process.