Friday, July 31, 2009

White Glove Municipal Governance

We all know that Brunswick is in need of a new Town Manager, and that the effort to find one is ongoing. We're investing tens of thousands with "consultants" to help us in the process.

After several months, the field has been narrowed to two candidates: an outsider, and the current acting Town Manager, or if you prefer, the Town Manager according to the town's web site.

Leaving aside the fact that the outcome is all but obvious, the latest revelation about the use of "consultants" in this matter is beyond troubling.

The obvious value of consultants is that they provide plausible deniability for local officials when things don't work out as planned. Everyone involved gets to keep their hands clean. And the dollars spent on consultant services create the illusion that a certain proprietary wisdom has been applied to fill a gaping void in the capacities of our town fathers (and mothers).

Now we read that the "consultants" will be used to "negotiate" a contract with the chosen candidate. Excuse me? And we wonder why the Town Council, who in theory govern this town, defer to town staff? As if they work for the Town Manager, instead of the other way around?

Shouldn't they be embarrassed by such a failure to lead and direct in this situation? How can we expect a consultant who has not a dollar's worth of skin at stake in this entire process to look after the best interests of town residents? And the best interests of the town? Does the consultant stand for re-election? Do residents know who he or she is?

As Side sees it, this whole episode is a shameful and embarrassing example of elected town officials doing everything possible to wash their hands of "tough decisions." Would they hire a consultant to help them establish behavioral expectations for their children, or pick their next new car, or decide on a career choice?

Have the principles of "public service" become so distorted and self-serving as to deny the very essence of the concept? I have long feared that they have, and watching this unfolding play is proof enough.

What's next? When the next council election is held, should voters have to hire consultants to tell them who to vote for?

As a closing note, I'm laying down a marker that the "negotiated" salary for the new manager will be $120,000 plus something like $60,000 in benefits. That's a lot, but managing nine town councilors plus town staff has its challenges, I suppose.

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