Avoiding City War I 

City Sage

Does the latest skirmish between Mayor Steve Bach and City Council mark the beginning of City War I?

Will we see juicy headlines, bruising behind-the-scenes battles and angry scuffles on the steps of City Hall between Bach and Council President Keith King? Will Councilor (and retired Col.) Don Knight refer contemptuously to the mayor as "Private Bach?" Will we suffer through years of stalled municipal government and pointless tumult, culminating in the recall of all involved? Will the City for Champions project collapse thanks to government dysfunction?

Fun for attorneys and journalists, but not much good for the city.

Watching last week as Council considered how to respond to Bach's vetoes was far from uplifting. For much of the morning, councilors fumbled and stumbled their way through the agenda, often confused and disoriented. On several occasions, they had to remind themselves that a "yes" vote would override the mayor's veto, while a "no" vote would sustain it ... or was that the other way around?

But there was no uncertainty when they considered the first agenda item.

Bach had vetoed Council's restructuring of city "appropriation departments," which had increased them from five to 12. Forcing Bach to ask Council permission whenever he wanted to move funds between departments would, according to the Council majority, increase governmental transparency and accountability. But Bach has seen it as an illegal attempt to usurp his administrative functions, allowing Council to micromanage the executive branch.

One senior administration official cited practical reasons as well: "They don't like to make decisions of any kind. It'd take forever for them to approve or disapprove."

The Mayor and a majority of Council appeared to be on a collision course — and they were.

Knight moved to override the mayor's veto, reading an 822-word motion that apparently had been crafted by an attorney. The motion to override was successful, supported by Knight and Councilors Helen Collins, Joel Miller, King, Andy Pico and, in something of a surprise, Merv Bennett.

The next day, Bach announced that he would ignore Council's actions and instruct city staff to disregard them.

Both sides cited the city charter, the rule of law and their oaths of office in defense of their positions. That's dismaying — when local politicos start sounding like Franklin D. Roosevelt responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor, you know that amiable compromise is the furthest thing from their minds.

But compromise they should. Bach could consent to a couple of additional administrative departments, and Council leaders could privately assure him that they wouldn't meddle with administrative decisions. It'd make a lot of sense for both of them to get off their high horses and go to work.

Collectively, they can leave a legacy.

A Council majority needs to work with Mayor Bach to bring the City for Champions project to completion within the next three years. It would be the height of folly if procedural quarrels so paralyze city government that we leave $120 million in state funding on the table.

So let's get real. Councilors King and Bennett: Get over your fit of pique and work together with the mayor to get this deal done. Yeah, yeah, we know — as you see it, the mayor is stubborn, imperious, uninterested in your opinions and impervious to reason. And it has to be galling that he'll get all the credit if C4C is brilliantly successful and transformative.

That's too bad, but so what? Bach put everything on the line. Had C4C been nixed by the state Economic Development Commission, he would have taken the fall. It would have encouraged those wanting to run against him in 2015, and effectively foreclosed any new initiatives from his administration.

If King and Bennett work with Jill Gaebler, Jan Martin and Val Snider to put local public funding in place for the downtown projects, they'll be heroes to many. This opportunity won't recur — so spend the next year working "together in perfect harmony" with the mayor, and tie everything up in an amazing package.

And after that? Let the fights resume! Speaking for the weasels of the media, we'll be tired of writing positive stories by then...


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