Search This Blog


Review panel should ditch its manager idea

Architects of the East Baton Rouge Parish Plan of Government review should look skeptically upon the notion of adding a city manager.

The committee responsible for any updates of the charter that runs Baton Rouge and some affairs parish-wide has floated the idea of adding this position to the current government. It appears to think this job would act in concert with the existing chief administrative officer, a mayoral appointee, to perform unspecified but managerially-oriented tasks. The current iteration appears to recommend that the Metropolitan Council hire the manager but the mayor could dismiss him.

The whole debate reeks of confusion, beginning with an apparent misconception that officials can separate politics from administration. If possible, then it might make sense to have a council-appointed manager. But that’s a myth; the manager reflects the politics of whoever hires, although more insulated from this tendency when overseen by a collective because of the fractious nature of committees and that members (in this instance) serve on a part-time basis that grants such a manager greater governing latitude.

Yet if this is the goal, it invites serious trouble. In essence, this would set up the city-parish with an elected strong chief executive and another indirectly elected strong chief executive. Other, even larger, cities have tried this arrangement over the past couple of decades and seen the best and worst that it has to offer.

In its earliest days in Oakland, CA, mayor and manager formed an alliance that led to little conflict and much joint policy-making initiative. But lately in Cincinnati, OH, conflict between the two became bitter to the point it began to paralyze city governance.

Since no one can predict whether agendas of the two officials would align, the risk always would be there for dysfunctional government to break out. In essence, this idea splits needlessly executive power.

However, discarding this independence of the manager by putting him under the aegis of the mayor, through appointment and dismissal, also proves counterproductive. It would create just another, duplicative CAO position that should not need writing into the Plan but remain outside it and needed at mayor-president discretion.

Either way, the idea seems wasteful, either in terms of additional bureaucracy it would generate or in the potential disruption it could bring to city-parish governance. If East Baton Rouge wants to head in a direction that hopes to minimize politics in city governance, it should go whole hog to a council-manager form of government, without a mayor-president where an elected council appoints and dismisses a professional manager with all executive power. A hybrid model on which the review panel seems poised to move forward more likely would end up doing the opposite.

No comments: