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December 27, 2017 - 10:28am

Today's Poll: Should Batavia have a mayor or a city manager?

posted by Howard B. Owens in poll.
Howard B. Owens
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Mayor pulls ahead and falls behind as I check the results through the morning.

Here's the problem with a mayor: It would be an entirely political office. It would be about political favors and political power. The mayor's party members on the council would benefit, the others would suffer. At least that's the danger unless the mayor turned out to be an exceptionally ethical person. But human nature being what it is, over the long haul, not all mayors would be ethical.

A mayor would also just be whomever the voters like, not who is most qualified for the job. A mayor would likely not have the educational background or experience to run a municipality.

An unqualified, political mayor would be a disaster for the city, and the longer the mayor system existed the higher the odds of that eventuality.

A city manager has the education, training, and experience for the job. A good hire moves the city forward. A good process for hiring a manager should, most of the time, yields good to great results. There's more attention to qualifications in the hiring process than there would be in an election and a good process is far less likely to be political.

Most jobs in the 21st Century economy are becoming more highly specialized, and this is certainly true at the executive level of government. Regulations get more complex. Funding systems get more complex. Knowing the ins and outs of state government for a city manager becomes even more daunting. Budgeting gets harder. Regulations around employees and unions get more complex. Everything about the job keeps getting harder and more specialized. It isn't a job just anybody off the street can do, no matter how smart or great their leadership skills. Training, education, experience, become ever more important.

The top executive for any municipality isn't something you can cheap out on if you care about the future of your community.

Howard B. Owens
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And just for the record, the poll question is hypothetical. To switch to a mayor form of government, the city would need to amend the charter and hold a referendum.

Brian Graz
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We already have the equivalent to a mayor... 3 At-large City Council members.

Howard B. Owens
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Three at-large council members have no executive function. Even the council president, who is an at-large member, has no executive function. All three are just one vote. The only executive function under our form of city government is the city manager. Only the city manager is tasked with heading up the day-to-day operations of the city government.

Michael Pullinzi
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Almost every significant City across America has an elected Mayor. Having an elected Mayor provides more accountability to the general public of voters instead of a hand full of insiders. Elected office is the foundation of our government in America for a reason.

Appointment of such a powerful position to one person has brought nothing positive for the City of Batavia. In fact our City has suffered miserably under an appointed Manager versus our more prominent days under an elected Mayor. The education of a City Manager is only a Master's Degree. One year more than any college graduate. The number of Assistants for the appointed Manager also keeps growing. Many poor decisions, poor planning, and plain BS has been made with no accountability to the public under an appointed Manager.

The best land for development in the City along our Creek bank has been ruined, the ridiculous S curve behind TIm Horton's is off the charts poor planning, and the Mall situation has dragged on unnecessarily for years ruining many businesses in the City. The legal fees for City taxpayers has skyrocketed and has been kept secret. There is no accountability to the taxpayers and there are so many conflicts and problems with a City Manager that anyone could fill a book.

The bottom line is that the best government is an elected government by the people, of someone from our Community, that has family connections to our area, that cares about and loves our Community, and that is not just here to pillage and move on to the best next offer. No one is ever going to be perfect, but I'd rather see someone accountable to the people as a whole than a few insiders.

Unfortunately, Howard is correct that the City going back to an elected Mayor involves a vote by the people to do so. I would love to see City Council give the public that vote opportunity.

Mike Pullinzi

John Roach
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Mike, how was the land along the creek ruined, and if it was, how would that have been different under a mayor?

And as a note, while the S curve is a pain, that was the result of New York State cutting off Jefferson at the Post Office when they rebuilt Main Street. Not sure how else you could get from Austin Park to Main without it, do you?

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Oh, Mike, the legal fees for the Mall have not been kept secret. I and others have foiled them at times. But I agree, it has cost too much and taken too long.

Howard B. Owens
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City's with mayors can generally afford both a mayor's salary and a top executives salary.

So would the people who have argued against paying the current manager a competitive salary be Ok with paying both a mayor's salary and a manager's salary?

Or how do you wind up with a mayor who is actually qualified to be a top executive in a municipality so you don't have to hire somebody who knows what he or she is doing? How do you keep the job from just being a political plum or popularity contest?

The best argument for having professional management is the outstanding manager who is now leaving largely because of five City Council members who haven't demonstrated much acumen when it comes to managing their employees. That's a pretty strong indication that you take your chances with relying on elected officials to provide strong, competent, leadership ... how bad off would we be casting our fate with people who play politics more than they lead?

Howard B. Owens
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As for the mall, it takes two to tango. Jason Molino got the deal he was aiming for all along. He wasn't the one slowing down the process.

John Roach
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Howard, while Molino got the deal he wanted, and I think it is a good deal, we have been told since last February that this would all be done in "2 more weeks". On December 14th, at the DRI meeting, the Council President told me it was going to be just another 2 weeks. The lack of keeping the public informed of why there are delays has not helped.

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The deal is approved. Molino has done his part. There's no logic in blaming him for anything at this point. There are three property owners who haven't signed the agreement. They're running out of time. If they don't sign soon, next month they will find themselves in court explaining to a judge what good reason they have not to sign (if they have any reason). It's not like Molino has the power to force them to sign. All he can do, like the rest of us, is wait.

John Roach
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Howard, the point is you just told people more about this delay than the Manager has. I don't blame Molino for the delay, but for not keeping us up to date

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It was previously reported that all of the merchants would have to sign off on the deal or explain to a judge why:

"Every property owner in the mall must now sign off on the agreement. They have 10 days to sign. If they don't, the mall merchants attorney and the city attorney will try to convince them to sign. If they still don't sign, they will have to explain their reason and provide evidence to support their reason, before a judge in Buffalo."

http://www.thebatavian.com/howard-b-owens/merchants-approve-mall-pact/43...

John Roach
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Yes, and that story was posted in October. Two months have passed and you are the one who had to update us (today). But again, we were told in February this was a done deal. I understand that was misleading and not all merchants were on board then. But this is one of the most important issues facing the City and information has not been easy to get. This is the kind of thing that should be updated to the public at each Council meeting during either the Manager's or Attorney's comments.

Howard B. Owens
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I think it's straining at gnats. Either the hold-out owners are going to sign or not.

Michael Pullinzi
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Those are two other significant boondoggles for the City. The changes taking away parking in front of the Post Offices and closing of the street would never have happened with an elected Mayor with some political clout. An absolute fine example of some more “professional” bureaucrats, not connected to our community, making poor decisions that negatively impact all of us. There also was far more going on with the S curve than that. The other BIG lie was that trash collection was going to lower our taxes. I tried to tell you during the process, but only later did you acknowledge you got lied to. Unfortunately, no public accountability on that one either. Taxes are higher than they were, we pay our own trash collection, and that has been a hardship for families and senior as well as trash being seen across our City every single day of the week. None of that is good for our City or citizens.

Howard B. Owens
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A mayor of a city of 15K is going to have political clout in Albany? Really?

Getting rid of city-financed trash service has certainly saved money and meant lower taxes. That's indisputable. Meanwhile, other expenses have gone up.

I never see trash around the city. We get great trash service from our vendor. I have no complaints. It's a good example of Jason's leadership -- he saw what needed to be done and stuck to his guns even despite criticism.

John Roach
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Mike, as for Route 5, I doubt a mayor would ever have been able to stop the State of NY from closing that street off. They had that area marked as a major hazard intersection. And once the street was closed, what was the alternative to the S curve?

As for the trash, t still like the result. But it was the elected City Council members who agreed to spend the extra money on Vibrant Batavia, a stand alone Assistant City Manager and pay for the BDC employee. That probably would have happened if it was a Mayor also.

Oh, and for the record, the Manager never recommended getting out of the trash business. Remember, he wanted it put out to bid to a Citywide bid, but that fell through.

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I've had a reconsideration of switching to a Mayor. In a (supposedly) representative democracy, they say more representation should be better than less. But I'd disagree if and when the vast majority of the representatives are of the same political party and generally stick to party lines. This is exactly what is happening in Batavia's City Council and would only be exaggerated further with the addition of a Mayor who would almost certainly be another voice for the dominant party, whereas the ideal manager would be nonpartisan. Also I tend to agree that, though a Mayor would be elected by the residents, that individual would not likely have the skills needed to manage the the affairs of the city. Obviously City Council does not, and rightfully their primary function should be to represent their constituents.

There are a couple of related changes that I strongly encourage.
1.) The elimination of the At-large positions. The At-large seats tend to be just extra representation for the dominant party. I believe that in a small city the size of Batavia, 6 Ward representatives should be sufficient.
2.) The universal need, that all candidates support until they are successful in getting elected, TERM LIMITS. This should be a requirement at all levels of politics.
3.) Controversial issues that are tough for council/management to agree on a remedy and become stalled or unsolvable in a reasonable time-frame, should be put up to the voters in a referendum. Too often it seems the voters wishes get lost or ignored.

Howard B. Owens
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Here are some interesting stats,

Of municipalities in our basic population range, 52 percent have a manager-council form of government. Whereas 48 percent have a mayor as the top executive.

If you count as a "significant city" a city with more than 500K population, there are 33 of those, and of those 11, or 1/3 have a manager-council form of government. While that's not a majority or even half, that is still a lot of major cities with a manager-council form of government.

https://icma.org/sites/default/files/306102_Form%20of%20Government%20Sta...

At the county level, in counties over 1 million population, only nine have an elected executive (such as Erie County), while 18 have an elected body and a non-elected executive, such as Genesee County. In counties between 25K and 50K, the split is 286/559, tilted toward non-elected executive (leaving out commissioner style of governments).

https://icma.org/sites/default/files/306105_Form%20of%20Government%20Sta...

True professional municipal executives also ascribe to a code of ethics. Among the standards is that municipal executives be non-partisan.

https://icma.org/icma-code-ethics

Brian Graz
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I also did some research, I compared 12 NYS small cities that have similar population to Batavia [+/- 3000].

Of these 12 cities Batavia is the only one that does NOT have a Mayor.
Of these 12 cities only 4 have a city manager [which includes Batavia].
Of these 12 cities half [6] have zero At-large representatives, and only Batavia has 3.

​Dunkirk:​ ​
Population (2010) Total 12,563
Estimate (2016) 11,940

​Government Type:
Mayor​​ +5 member Common Council​ (​1 ​​​at large)
Manager​-​no​

Geneva:
Population (2010) Total 13,261
Estimate (2016) 12,988

Government Type:
Mayor+8 member City Council​ ​(​2​ at large)​
Manager-yes​

Oneonta:
Population (2010) Total 13,901
Estimate (2016) 13,955

Government Type:
Mayor+8 member Common Council​ ​(​0​ at large)​
Manager-yes​

Olean:
Population (2010) Total 14,452
Estimate (2016) 13,794

Government Type:
Mayor+7 member Common Counci​l ​(​0 ​at large)​
Manager-no​

Glens Falls:
Population (2010) Total 14,700
Estimate (2016) 14,328

Government Type:
Mayor+6 member Common Council​ (​1​​ ​at large)​
Manager-no​

Tonawanda:
Population (2010) Total 15,130
Estimate (2016) 14,858

Government Type:
Mayor+5 member Common Council​​ (0 ​at large)​
Manager-no​

Batavia:
Population (2010) Total 15,465
Estimate (2016) 14,801

Government Type:
9 member City Council​ ​(​3 ​at large)​
Manager-yes​

Beacon:
Population (2010) Total 15,541
Estimate (2016) 14,271

Government Type:
Mayor+6 member City Council​​ (2 ​at large)​
Manager-no​

Gloversville:
Population (2010) Total 15,665
Estimate (2016) 14,940

Government Type:
Mayor+7 member Common Council​ ​(​1​at large)​
Manager-no​

Rye:
Population (2010) Total 15,720
Estimate (2016) 15,980

Government Type:
Mayor+6 member City Counci​l (​0 at large)​
Manager-yes​

Cohoes:
Population (2010) Total 16,168
Estimate (2016) 16,883

Government Type:
Mayor+6 member Common Council​​ ​​(​0​ at large)​
Manager-no​

Lackawanna:
Population (2010) Total 18,141
Estimate (2016) 17,868

Government Type:
Mayor+5 member City Counci​l (​0​ at large)​
Manager-no​

Howard B. Owens
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FWIW: The poll question is phrased as either/or because that's kind of been the debate.

However, it's perhaps worth noting that every city I covered in California had a mayor and a city manager. Like here, it was a "strong city manager" form of government. The manager in El Cajon, La Mesa, and Santee all had as much power as the city manager here. The mayor was paid a pretty decent part-time salary.

Funny story about the city manager in Santee ... my first week on the job with that beat, I asked to see the claims against the city. He denied my access to the records. I wrote a letter to the City Attorney quoting the California Public Records Act.

The next week, when I showed up at City Hall, there was a new folder at the clerk's desk: Claims against the city. Available for any member of the public to inspect.

There was only one claim filed at the time. The city manager, driving a city vehicle, had rear-ended another vehicle and that driver filed a claim for damage and injuries. (I had no idea about this accident prior to my request.)

Naturally, I wrote a story.

We never got along after that.

When I transferred to La Mesa, the Santee manager called the La Mesa manager and said, "good, now you get to deal with that f----er Howard Owens."

The La Mesa manager and I always got along swimmingly. He already knew the Santee manager was an arrogant jerk.

Dave Meyer
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Brian, we don’t often agree, but I somewhat agree with the elimination of 2 of the 3 at large council posts. I would keep one to make the number of Council persons an odd number so as to eliminate the possibility of tie votes.
It’s a good idea and would save the city whatever salary is paid to those extra 2 Council members.

John Roach
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Dave, I agree to the point that the number of Council members should always be an odd number. One at Large would in effect be a Mayor, for a 4 year period. Under the current system, all 9 members elect one of the 3 At Large members every two years to be the ceremonial head of Council. In fact, they pick the Chairman from the 3 this coming January 8th.

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I guess I don’t see how the one at large council person would be the “mayor”
If the charter were to be changed, the election process for the council president could also be changed.

John Roach
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Dave, the 1 At large would be the only one elected by the whole City. Doesn't really matter the title (Chair Person, President, Supervisor or Mayor), that is what the outcome would be. But with also a Manager, it would be what is called a weak Mayor system.

As for changing how the Council President is selected, it has been in the past the idea that whoever it is, should be elected by the whole City as opposed to one from the Wards

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As Dave said, this is a rare moment when he and I find agreement... and in this segment I can even include John too. However, I would disagree with the continuation of any At-large council member, as well I would like to see the end of the council president being from the At-large candidates. As has been the case in recent years Batavia ends up with one of the newest, least experienced members as it's President. Is this wise? I'm not so sure.

I definitely agree with having an odd number of members and I contemplated this before my previous post, and inadvertently forgot to put it forth. I would either, redistrict and create 5 or 7 Wards. Or the other option, which I believe some communities already do, is have the council President an elected position on the ballot and selected by the voters [but then what would be the difference between the Pres and a Mayor?]. And this brings us back to having the 6 Wards and adding a Mayor, If I had my wish, I would prefer 5-7 Wards with equal representation and control over a hired manager.

Yet, I'm still drawn back to the list that I posted above showing that ALL the other cities except Batavia have a Mayor... Why? There must be a reason. And I don't believe it's because Batavia has it figured out better than all the rest. I really don't know.

John Roach
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Brian, it needs to be noted that lack of experience is not a problem for Council President. The job is ceremonial only. He/she presides over meetings, assigns agenda items for meetings and signs documents. The Council President is not to do anything that affects the City as a whole without the OK of the rest of Council. As he/she runs the meeting, the whole thing is written out. If the other members of Council do not think the President is doing the job well, they can make a change every 2 years.

Brian Graz
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John it's pretty hard to accept your premise that the council Pres is equal in power, authority to the rest of the members. Perhaps this is because Pres Jankowski has almost exclusively been the only spokesperson to engage in the debates and arguments directed at the council, the manager, and the city management in general, since way before the Nov election. With perhaps two brief interludes, Pres Jankowski has been the only one. This sure gives the impression that he is 'in charge'. Having said this, I don't have a problem with Jankowski responding and constantly being in the mix. In fact I wish the other representatives would show their hand and join the discussion... act like a representative of the constituents rather than only talking when the meeting is in session, and then vote as 'I know best'.

John Roach
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Brian, while E. Jankowski may have been almost the only one to use social media, that does in no way change the duties and limitations outlined for the President in the City Charter.

I know at least 3 other Council members have Facebook accounts and I know 3 do not (And those 3 almost never read the Batavian either).

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"I know at least 3 other Council members have Facebook accounts and I know 3 do not (And those 3 almost never read the Batavian either)."... sounds like those latter three are missing some pretty good opportunities to both read about what their constituents are feeling and to communicate with constituents.

Howard B. Owens
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“And those 3 almost never read the Batavian either.”

John, the community deserves to know who these three council members are. If elected officials don’t care to be engaged and informed, they don’t deserve to hold elected office. Who are they? It’s exceptionally unprofessional not to care enough to be fully informed. Though, this may be unsurprising. I imagine these are the same council members whom we learned recently don’t bother to read their council packets prior to meetings. Clearly, the citizens of Batavia are not being well represented by some members of the current council. We deserve to know who they are.

John Roach
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Howard,. To say not reading the Batavian means they do not care to be informed, that's a bit of an ego problem with you. There is the Daily News, WBTA and now Video News Service (which I find very good). Sorry, but while you do well, you're not the only game in town. But, they are Councilmembers McGinnis, Viele and Briggs.

As for not reading that Council package, even the ones who do read this page did not read it that time, and you know it.

Howard B. Owens
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John, it's has nothing to do with thinking we're better. It has everything to do with the fact that when you really care about your job, you care to be fully informed. Often our coverage brings a different perspective to issues. And readers sometimes bring a different perspective. Truly curious, life-long learners, people passionate about what they do, do not pass up opportunities to learn more. Those are the kind of people I expect to find in an elected office.

John Roach
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While I understand your point, not reading the Batavian, in my opinion, does not mean people stop learning or do not care about what is going on. Like I said, there are other local sources of news just as good as yours. I read the Batavian, but it is not my go to source first thing in the day. That's WBTA.

Howard B. Owens
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John, I still don't think you're getting it.

Let's change the names of the publications. A town has three options: The Gazette, the Tribune, and the Times.

Three council members read only the Gazette and the Tribune. Their decision not to read the Times isn't about what is or isn't in the Times, it's about just not caring much. Passionate people care. They don't want to take the chance on missing anything that might be relevant. They have a high degree of FOMO (fear of missing out).

The council members you reference have none of that, if what you say is accurate. They are less than ideal representatives for the citizens of Batavia. Far less.

The don't care enough to make sure there is nothing they miss. I could never knowingly vote for anybody like that.

John Roach
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I disagree. Not reading the Batavian is not an end all. And I do not think anyone needs to read all the sources to get a feel for what is going on in the City. I get the same news from WBTA, the Daily News Print and online versions) and Video News Service as I get here, and sometimes sooner. I don't think they miss anything here they can not get elsewhere.

True, they miss me and Brian debating, or miss Dave, Ed and Tom but that is hardly earth shattering.

Howard B. Owens
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John, I think they do miss something, but that's neither here nor there.

Not reading everything, no matter what you think you may or may not get from it, is a sign of not caring.

Professionals read EVERYTHING relevant to their jobs.

These three people don't care enough about being council members to deserve my vote, whoever they are.

John Roach
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You were probably not going to vote for Briggs anyway, since she has not voted for some of the things you wanted (like Molino's pay raise). I think all this has more to do with them not reading your page than anything else. And I am not sure how many of the other Council members read the Batavian everyday either. I believe Councilmen Tabelski and Jankowski do.

Howard B. Owens
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I've been in management most of my adult life ... hired a lot of people. I always look for people who are passionate about their work. If they're not passionate, I don't want them on my team.

If you think this is just about The Batavian, then you are sorely misreading the issue. It's one of my core principals in life: hire and associate with passionate people.

One thing I like about Jason Molino is he's passionate about his work. I've found that people who aren't passionate about their work are often resentful of those who are. It is probably not surprising that those who aren't passionate about their work wanted to get rid of Jason.

Based on your comment above, Briggs must be one of the three lack-of-passion people you're referring to.

John Roach
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I do think this is all about you and your Batavian. The idea they would have to read your news page to be considered "passionate" speaks more to ego than anything else.

And I don't think anyone is resentful of Jason. Why would anyone, on Council or not, be resentful? I am one who is not sorry to see him go, you know that. But, why would I be resentful?

But clearly, this has gone to a dead end. You think they need to read your news page to do their job. I think they can get the same information at the Daily News, WBTA and Video News service. Bet you dimes to dollars, neither of us will change the others mind.

Howard B. Owens
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John, feel free to ignore what I wrote. Facts are inconvient to politics. You have your council allies you have to protect and you kind of stepped in it by admitting they don’t really care enough about their jobs to stay fully informed. Keep repeating the refuted point without evidence to try and back out of it. Go ahead, spin it how you like.

John Roach
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Howard, basically what I said is they don't care to read your news page. They do get all the news to do their jobs from other sources, like the Daily News and WBTA.

I think your ego took a hit finding out not everyone reads the Batavian. And I would still like to know why you think anyone would be resentful of Jason? Not agreeing with him on policy or issues is not the same as being resentful.

This is not about spin, this is all about ego and hurt feelings.

Howard B. Owens
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John, some 10k Genesee County residents a day read The Batavian. Three council members not reading it means little to me. It says far more about their lack of caring than it does about The Batavian.

Every time you say it’s about my ego you’re calling me a liar and I do resent that. I’m not going to let you get away with it. As long as you keep trying to make this about me instead of the truth, I’m going to respond. We can go back and forth all week if you like. I’m simply not going to let you get away with lying about me.

You and I both know there was a “fire Jason Molino” coalition, of which your council allies were members. When people come out so strongly against an accomplished person who is doing a great job and make their animosity so personal that they deny him a promised raise, I see that as resentful behavior. Their actions went beyond mere disagreement with him on policy and issues but veered into public retribution over those disagreements.

Howard B. Owens
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I should add, John, I know there are people around here who don't think The Batavian is their cup of tea. They're always eager to tell me what I'm doing wrong. My response, then don't read The Batavian. If this was about ego, I'd grovel a lot more with those people than I do. I learned long ago, when you're in journalism, not everybody is going to like what you do. It's part of the job.

I could not care less about three council members not reading The Batavian. I do care whether they care about their jobs. You are free to not believe it, but don't call me a liar.

"People say you have to have a lot of passion about what you do, and it's so true ... " Steve Jobs.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KuNQgln6TL0

This is why "passion" is in the middle of a tattoo on my left arm, which I know you've seen.

John Roach
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So, you say 3 people who don't care to read your news site are not professional, don't care about their job and don't deserve to be reelected. I say this is about your ego, and I am a "liar". You don't mind taking shots at people, but are not real happy if I take one, right.

As for the tattoo, I know you have one, but did not know what is said, but thanks for letting me know.

Howard B. Owens
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John, keep spinning. I said three people who don't care to follow all of the news of the community don't have a passion for their job. That applies whether they're skipping on The Batavian or the Daily News. An elected official should care enough to keep up with all the news no matter the source.

When I say you are calling me a liar, it isn't taking a shot at you. I've characterized you in no way. I didn't call you a liar (more spin from you). I said you are telling a very specific singular lie about me. I'm sure you normally tell the truth. I believe you are an honorable man. In fact, I've been impressed a number of times that you corrected factual errors from other readers when the facts might be considered against your political interest. That is admirable. In this case, you are lying about me and I don't like it.

John Roach
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Howard, it is my opinion that this is about ego, just as it is your personal opinion that since they do not read the Batavian, they are not passionate about their job or don't care about it. I think you are lying about them. To attack them like you have, just for not reading one (1) news source was uncalled for. Had you just said that not reading the Batavian was their loss because of different news or more opinions shared on issues, that would have been the end of it. But no, you went into full attack mode. I

John Roach
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On the other hand, you are right, this is pretty much run its course.

Howard B. Owens
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John, since you're so good at reading my mind, I'm sure you're good at reading the mind of others, too. Perhaps we should team up on some poker tournaments. You could tip me to what the other players are thinking. We could really make some bank.

I've attacked nobody. I've criticized the actions of elected officials. There's a long history in this country of enjoying the freedom to criticize elected officials for their actions. This is about their actions, which you made public, and a legitimate way to interpret those actions. I stand by my interpretation of the information you shared: There are three council members who really aren't that engaged in their jobs.

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