Council members Monica Vernon and Justin Shields stopped by The Gazette on Wednesday to talk to the newspaper’s editorial board at Vernon’s request.
Vernon conceded that part of the intent of the meeting was for her to “vent” a little.
She and Shields last week advocated for the hiring of a city flood-recovery manager — Vernon at one point called the job a flood-recovery CEO –- a move that their City Council colleagues endorsed.
But six of the nine council members rejected the Vernon-Shields idea that the new employee should be hired and report directly to the council and not to the council’s top employee, City Manager Jim Prosser.
The council majority said the city’s still-new council/manager government was designed with one CEO, the city manager.
On Wednesday, Vernon and Shields continued to make their case for their minority position in the table-of-organization debate to The Gazette editorial board.
Along the way, they insisted that their unsuccessful move to get a new employee reporting to the council was not a move around or against Prosser.
Shields and Vernon said their central interest is to get more done on flood recovery better and sooner.
“I’m not blaming Jim Prosser for that,” Shields said. “I’m blaming myself for that because I’ve not been able to move anything to help do it better.”
In their view of City Hall, the part-time council and part-time mayor in a council/manager government play a too-small role in governing and are too dependent on the city manager to set the agenda and to bring items to the council for discussion and votes.
In their view, city government and all of its 1,400 employees and all the city’s consultants are there to work for Prosser, not the City Council.
Vernon even suggested reconvening a Home Rule Charter Commission to modify the City Charter so that the City Council might have clear responsibility for more employees whom the council could direct.
The City Charter, which was put in place by voters in June 2005, calls for the Charter Commission to reconvene, in any event, in 2011 and every 10 years after that.
In addition, the charter allows for amendments by the council itself, subject to a voter referendum upon a petition request.
Organizational charts aside, Vernon and Shields acknowledged that there were things that they could try to do to remedy what they see as a problem: that is, too much coming from the city manager and too little from the council.
Vernon said the council needed a better way to get ideas to the table from themselves and from the public and then a better way to sort through those.
Vernon called for the council to establish committees, where small groups of council members can take time to dig into particular topics and then bring the results back to the full council for discussion.
Prosser, she said, doesn’t favor council committees and Mayor Kay Halloran hasn’t created them.
Shields said most every form of government uses committees.
“My God, the federal government would collapse if they didn’t have committees,” he said. “They wouldn’t know what to do.”
At the end of the day, Vernon told The Gazette editorial board that what she and Shields were shouting about was about better government and the ability of the elected council to play a bigger role to get it done.
“This is not a petty deal with the city manager,” Vernon said. “This is about how should the structure work and what should we be doing and are we able to do what we were elected to do.
“… If everything flows through that person (the city manager), who I thought was sort of an operations person, then you tell me what my role is. (Is it) to walk in St. Patrick’s Day parades? Is that the role?
“I didn’t run (for council) to walk in St. Patrick’s Day parades. I don’t mind it. It’s kind of fun. But give me a committee. Give me some policy. Give me a problem to solve.”