We have a most genteel city council. In fact, it is so genteel that a suspicion of rubberstamping has been quietly murmured around the city. I think this has been fueled by the recent development in the last few years of a ‘consent agenda’. This is a batch of city council approvals all lumped together and then voted on as a single entity by the entire city council. In theory, if something listed is of a concern to one or more of the councilors, it will be brought out and discussed but often as not, there is little mention.
The impression, if not deserved, is of an assembly line – the Mayor puts an appointment or measure on the conveyer belt, it shuffles down to the city clerk, who organizes it in a package, and puts it back on the conveyer belt for the city council to stamp it, ‘Approved’. Hence the term, ‘rubberstamp’ which according to the Free Online Dictionary is, ‘To endorse, vote for, or approve without question or deliberation.” Merriam-Webster was even more clear, “mostly powerless yet officially recognized body or person that approves or endorses programs and policies initiated usually by a single specified source…”
Now the way our city is supposed to work whether under the old charter and still in the new charter (which won’t go in effect until 2013), the Mayor originates many directives and then the city council deliberates on it and approves and disapproves. Personally, I think that Councilor O’Brien has been working very closely with the Corner Office to the point that things are hashed out before it gets to the council floor – the Mayor then gets negative and positive feedback before something is put out for approval – it is often this smooth negotiation that has probably led to this idea of rubberstamping.
The councilors on their part have been making a point last year of getting heard and vetting out issues. A good point is the Storey Avenue debate, and not so public but just as important, the Inn Street Restoration. Just this last Thursday quite a few city councilors took the time to show up at the second hearing over Inn Street. (The Mayor was there too!) I’ve already mentioned how displeased many were who attended at the first meeting – this time MORE city councilors were in attendance and MORE local business owners were also there. There has been this weird tendency to do sloppy, ‘getting-by’ design and workmanship in the city and it was refreshing that city councilors were present to make sure things get done right.
So with all this in consideration, I noticed for tomorrow night, three of our department heads had been shuffled in with the re-appointment of assistant harbormasters and our electrical inspector and thrown into the ‘consent agenda’:
Gary Calderwood, Building Inspector
Dan Raycroft, Assessor
Andrew Port, Planning Director
Now, granted, there is a second reading on these important reappointments so there is plenty of chances to question them. But in that light, I am hoping the rubberstamp gets put away in the drawer and these three and especially Mr. Calderwood are questioned about this coming year. With the expansion of the local historic district, will they be up to speed to handle the new reality? Are they boned up on historic preservation standards as dictated by the Department of Interior’s ‘Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties’. Can they tell the difference between a Colonial, Federal, Georgian, Greek Revival, Italianate and a Second Empire? (I’m just being mean here.) Will they be up to understanding the new guidelines for the district? Will the Building Inspector be fully aware of what goes to the NLHD Commission and what can be approved with just his consent?
Is the Assessor and Planning Director also up to speed to this new reality?
All I’m asking is for some questions to be asked. I assure you that how they respond will tell the rest of us and the general public a lot about those who will be presiding over the expansion.