The needler in the haystack.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Burney's 'transparency with teeth': Would it work? Is there a better way?


Councilor Burney's proposal: A random act of management?
Plainfield Councilor Rashid Burney posted on Wednesday (see here) a longish 'rebuttal' of my recounting of the Council's votes on Monday that failed to overturn the vetoes of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs of two ordinances passed by the Council in August (see my post here).

Let's leave aside the cheap shot that I did not post the ordinances online as Councilor Burney did -- I would have had to OPRA them (7 days wait) after their failure to pass (which was unexpected, given the way the August votes went), whereas Burney is privileged by virtue of his office to get the copies in his packet, from which he is able to scan them at will (no OPRA wait) and post them online, as he did with these on the 15th, the same day as his post.




The ordinances were posted by Councilor Burney (kit0415) on September 15th.
Let's note that I was reporting on the Council's actions, not concocting an alternative to the ordinances on which the Council had previously agreed, so it is somewhat disingenuous to claim I 'did not show...what the ordinances would do'.

And also let's note that on the same day as Councilor Burney's post, I put up a second piece on the vote that pointed out the resolutions were REALLY TANKED by the unexplained switcheroo by Councilor Rivers (see here).

Councilor Burney argues that TRANSPARENCY is not the issue, rather --

...[t]he issue at hand is not tranparency - the issue at hand is more about compliance, accountability, accuracy and what no one wants to say in public: control.
Let's grant Councilor Burney's point: He wants compliance, accountability, accuracy and...control.

So, let's look at Councilor Burney's proposal (which he presents in 55 words in a nearly 1,200 word post) --

My proposal: Would require the administration to provide the governing body with a list of all contracts executed by the Mayor along with a monthly list of purchase orders. By getting this information at the front end of the services, we can see and ask questions on purchase orders and contracts before services are rendered.
The gist of Councilor Burney's proposal is getting CONTRACTS and PURCHASE ORDERS up front, giving a better chance at compliance, accountability and accuracy (he leaves out 'control' the second time around).

WOULD BURNEY'S PROPOSAL WORK?

The Robinson-Briggs administration has argued that the bills ordinance would unduly burden staff by causing them to have to prepare more documentation and would disrupt the payment cycle (twice monthly now) by having the Council review bills (once a month) before the checks are cut.

If the administration is not ALREADY GETTING THIS DOCUMENTATION as part of its standard management practices, we need to be very fearful. If they are (it is, after all, standard fiscal practice in corporate America), then it is simply a matter of SHARING WITH THE COUNCIL ALREADY EXISTING DOCUMENTATION, which should be no big deal.

Councilor Burney's proposal, however, would REALLY GUM UP THE WORKS.

It might be one thing to require Mayor Robinson-Briggs to share with the Council CONTRACTS she has executed before the work is performed.

But PURCHASE ORDERS is another kettle of fish altogether. Unlike a BILLS LIST, which is all stacked up, ready for the checks to be issued at the press of an 'ENTER' key, PURCHASE ORDERS dribble in in a constant stream -- sort of like the alimentary canal of a living organism.

To cause PURCHASE ORDERS to be backed up for a once-a-month review by the Council would be like feeding your pet dog or cat every day but only letting them do their duty once a month.

It strikes me much more like one of the 'random acts of management' one would get from a mid-level Fortune 500 company manager who had never actually worked 'in the trenches'.

IS THERE A BETTER WAY?

So, what we have before us are two roads, diverging in a wood as it were --
  • The ORIGINAL Bills List ordinance, which Councilor McWilliams acknowledges does not give the Council control over expenditures by the Robinson-Briggs administration, but just oversight; and

  • Councilor Burney's proposal for the Council to get lists of CONTRACTS and PURCHASE ORDERS in advance, on a monthly basis. (Let's leave aside for the moment whether Councilor Burney's ordinance would be vetoed, and whether it could surmount that fate.)
Sadly for Councilor Burney, the Robinson-Briggs administration still holds the trump card under the current charter. As City Administrator Bibi Taylor said at last Monday's Council meeting, and I quote, 'the Administration has the power to request services and make payments WITHOUT Council approval'.
Is there a better way?

If the Council is to have CONTROL (Burney's word), or even a meaningful say, maybe it's time to consider getting rid of Plainfield's antiquated special charter in favor of one of the menu options the state offers municipalities under the Faulkner Act (see links below).

Now, that would really be pursuing 'transparency with teeth'.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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10 comments:

Rob said...

Dan...if you are offering a solution that makes sense, you realize you wasted your time even typing it don't you??
That would be like trying to convince Reid, Rivers, Carter and Burney to extract themselves from Club Jerry & Sharon, grow a spine and do whats morally right.

Anonymous said...

Dan the reals power is in those RESQUISTION statements that have to be prepared and signed by a big shot BEFORE a purchase order is spitted out. Once it is developed the poor company trusts the city is honoring it - unless you holds it out of the mail pickup and good luck with thats - and sending a check even if somewhere along the line someone questions it. Other companies would not know if the city would honor other purchase ordrers sent out.

Anonymous said...

Burney did grow a spine. Unfortunately it was crooked, hunched and only fit for ringing bells.

Anonymous said...

Gee Dan. . . speaking of 'longish rebuttals', how many words was that RETRACTION?

JSpear

Dan said...

Jim -- Are you suggesting longish generates longish?

Say it ain't so...;-))

Bob said...

I can't wait until November elections and Burney will be gone and I can't wait until we vote the other Jerry people out of office. We need Councilors who will have a spine, do what's morally correct and more.

Anonymous said...

Dan -- Sorry this comment is so long Blogger won't take it in one bite. First of two parts.

As I see it, the problem is that most of the people in Plainfield vote and act along lines. Party lines, racial lines, ward lines and economic lines to name a few. I know that this is self-evident, but sometimes it is the most evident that is in greatest need of pointing out. How many times have we all looked everywhere for the car keys only to find them in our pocket? My point is that if Plainfield is ever going to move forward, the truth has to be forced in front of everyone’s face so that no one can look away or see what he or she want to see.

Truth: Jerry Green cares about Jerry Green. In and of itself, that’s not bad. However, when you apply the multiplying effect that it has on the City, County and State you can see the multiplying detriment magnified. A true leader would find a way to make his interests align with the people’s interest instead of approaching everything as a zero sum game. Zero sum meaning, that there has to be a loser if there is to be a winner. In the case of Plainfield that means Jerry wins the City loses.

Under normal circumstances, Jerry Green would not have been allowed to stay in office as long as he has if not for some additional truths. Truth: New Jersey districts are beyond gerrymandered. One would have to wonder why not a single challenger was elected in the state’s most recent election for Assembly positions. Was it because they were all doing such a fine job? Was it because the voters felt like they needed a little more time to complete the job? No, they were all re-elected with an average of 30% of the vote simply because the system has been perverted to the point where nothing will undo what they have done.

Truth: Sharon Robinson Briggs is limited in her ability to manage the problems of Plainfield. She is not a bad person, but for the most part, she does what she is told to do and tries to add value with a warm fuzzy effort at “why can’t we be friends”. The problems facing Plainfield need serious solutions and require tough efforts to fix. That means you put police on the streets where the violence is taking place and crack down on anything that moves wrong. If you make it uncomfortable for crime to operate, it will seek the path of least resistance and find another place to inhabit. If they move from the fourth ward to the first, the police move with them. If they move again, the police follow. As long as the police remain vigilant, eventually the bad guys will tire and move out all together.

I am not sure why this hasn’t happened, but it doesn’t take a million dollar system or a twenty thousand dollar radio broadcast to fix the problem. I know what some will say…Plainfield will become a police state, they will only focus on the black residents, and it will only affect poor people in the fourth ward. Truth: This is where the problem is for the moment. If you have cancer in your leg, you don’t focus your efforts on your arm. On that note, you don’t spend money on experimental treatments when the real solution is to remove the leg at the knee. Lastly, you don’t ask the TV repairperson to handle any part of the process…he or she has no experience in the treatment of cancer and therefore will have zero ability to produce a positive outcome. If you want to solve the problem, and live in peace, focus less on the picnics and personalities and more on cracking down on the criminals.

Anonymous said...

As I see it, the problem is that most of the people in Plainfield vote and act along lines. Party lines, racial lines, ward lines and economic lines to name a few. I know that this is self-evident, but sometimes it is the most evident that is in greatest need of pointing out. How many times have we all looked everywhere for the car keys only to find them in our pocket? My point is that if Plainfield is ever going to move forward, the truth has to be forced in front of everyone’s face so that no one can look away or see what he or she want to see.

Truth: Jerry Green cares about Jerry Green. In and of itself, that’s not bad. However, when you apply the multiplying effect that it has on the City, County and State you can see the multiplying detriment magnified. A true leader would find a way to make his interests align with the people’s interest instead of approaching everything as a zero sum game. Zero sum meaning, that there has to be a loser if there is to be a winner. In the case of Plainfield that means Jerry wins the City loses.

Under normal circumstances, Jerry Green would not have been allowed to stay in office as long as he has if not for some additional truths. Truth: New Jersey districts are beyond gerrymandered. One would have to wonder why not a single challenger was elected in the state’s most recent election for Assembly positions. Was it because they were all doing such a fine job? Was it because the voters felt like they needed a little more time to complete the job? No, they were all re-elected with an average of 30% of the vote simply because the system has been perverted to the point where nothing will undo what they have done.

Truth: Sharon Robinson Briggs is limited in her ability to manage the problems of Plainfield. She is not a bad person, but for the most part, she does what she is told to do and tries to add value with a warm fuzzy effort at “why can’t we be friends”. The problems facing Plainfield need serious solutions and require tough efforts to fix. That means you put police on the streets where the violence is taking place and crack down on anything that moves wrong. If you make it uncomfortable for crime to operate, it will seek the path of least resistance and find another place to inhabit. If they move from the fourth ward to the first, the police move with them. If they move again, the police follow. As long as the police remain vigilant, eventually the bad guys will tire and move out all together.

I am not sure why this hasn’t happened, but it doesn’t take a million dollar system or a twenty thousand dollar radio broadcast to fix the problem. I know what some will say…Plainfield will become a police state, they will only focus on the black residents, and it will only affect poor people in the fourth ward. Truth: This is where the problem is for the moment. If you have cancer in your leg, you don’t focus your efforts on your arm. On that note, you don’t spend money on experimental treatments when the real solution is to remove the leg at the knee. Lastly, you don’t ask the TV repairperson to handle any part of the process…he or she has no experience in the treatment of cancer and therefore will have zero ability to produce a positive outcome. If you want to solve the problem, and live in peace, focus less on the picnics and personalities and more on cracking down on the criminals.

Dan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Dan -- This goes with the comment above. Blogger must have choked on the length of it....

Truth: If people started caring less about black, white or brown and started caring more about what is right and good...Plainfield would start making progress. Plainfield has a checkered past, we all know this. But it is time to stop dividing the city by race and by ward. Do you really think Annie McWilliams cares what race someone is? Do you really think that Cory only cares what happens in the second ward? If you do…you are part of the problem. Annie doesn’t care if you are black, white or brown; she cares about the city where she grew up. She cares about what it will become from where it has been. Cory doesn’t care about what ward you live in; he cares about the City of Plainfield making progress and thriving so that he and his family can continue to live and work there. I know for a fact that Adrian and Rebecca and Pivnichny all care about Plainfield in the same way. Why do you think they have worked so tirelessly over the years for so little if it weren’t for the fact that they care about the City?

I read somewhere that people live in Plainfield because they have no choice, and that may be true for some…but there are a hell of a lot of people living in Plainfield by choice. If you diminish that fact, you diminish the hope that one day Plainfield will move forward. There is another truth…when the water in the harbor rises at high tide…every boat rises with it, unless they have been tethered too tightly or been allowed to fall into disrepair.

If the residents of Plainfield truly want the city to move forward, they will break the shackles of race, party affiliation, economic and geographic divide. They will stop giving away their votes on a promise that has failed them for twenty years and counting. They will make whomever wants to lead them prove that they are up to the job and committed to seeing it through. They will no longer be slaves (yes I said it) to the belief that only people who look like them can understand and fix the problems. We have seen the true enemy, and they are black, white, brown, gay, straight, Muslim, Christian and Jew; the enemy is every one of us who continues to perpetuate the same useless, even counterproductive, politicians who keep making the same useless empty promises. Here is the final truth: if you continue to do the same things that you have been doing, you will continue to get the same results. At this point, that means a 100% guarantee of failure. However, trying anything new at least gives you a 50%-50% chance.

Is your vote for a safe, affordable and clean city only worth the cash that you get on Election Day? Is your hope for better, safer and more efficient schools worth so little? If not, then do something about it. If YOU don’t, no one else will.