…and then there were twelve?
Is Mayor Nicholson having a municipal identity crisis?
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I recently engaged in conversation with two local neighbors, a long-standing local business owner and a former elected official who offered their opinions on my support for a ‘return’ to investments in transforming our city’s core into a walkable, bike-able, densely populated urban center.
Scotts on the Rocks Politica Podcast
No. XXII. Feb. 25, 2021
No, The Gardner City Council Does Not Have a New Member.
Your eyes are not deceiving you – the Gardner City Council still has eleven legislators.
It may seem to the casual observer that the City Council now has a twelfth member – Mayor Nicholson.
At the last City Council Meeting, your eyes and ears were not deceiving you when the Mayor, who was not requested to respond or to give input, took the role of a City Councillor in response to Councillor Walsh’s motion to refer a matter to the Finance Committee.
The Mayor, in his role as City Councillor, volunteered his legislative input (even though he’s the executive): “I’m fine with this item being referred back to the Finance Committee, and I have no objections to that.”
That’s good, because no one asked him – and he doesn’t get a vote, even if he did have an objection.
I could say “don’t get me wrong…,” but, to the hyenas lying in wait on “social” media that’s not just a sincere disclaimer anymore – it’s an invitation to the hyenas to, well, get that person wrong.
So, I won’t bother – it’s just not in the tea leaves, sage smoke, or tarot cards. Have at it.
I have openly applauded the Mayor’s virtual presence at the virtual table of our City Council Meetings.
The Mayor’s presence at City Council meetings is very helpful.
This actually makes the City Council more efficient because you don’t hear the President perpetually having to say, “I’ll have to circle back around on that after I check with the Mayor.”
I have commended the Mayor for being so accessible to, responsive to, and communicative with the City Council.
I don’t do that to blow smoke up his (back), or for social credit points. It’s just the truth.
This is not a small thing – this communication thing that Mayor Nicholson is willing to do with the City Council. Mayor Nicholson’s willingness to do this means that the Executive and the Legislative branches are working together on all issues (even the ones that might appear to be relatively minor) toward the Citizenry’s best interests. This is new.
It is refreshing not to hear “you know where my office is if you want to know what is going on,” anymore.
It is a good thing that Mayor Nicholson realizes that the City Council not only exists – but that it serves a critical governmental role in the welfare of our Citizens.
But, when the Mayor interjects during our City Council Meetings to “correct” a City Councillor’s opinion, or his understanding of the truth, when no one has asked the Mayor for his input, he is intervening in City Council business – and influencing the City Council vote (especially in a super-partisan City Council – which is thereby especially susceptible to the Mayor’s desires).
I am sure the City Councillors would not be welcomed to sit in the Mayor’s office all day and intervene in his engagement of, and his decision-making duties regarding, Executive Branch business.
When the Mayor is in his Mayor’s office, he is doing his Executive duties. When the City Council is sitting at our City Council Meetings, we are doing our Legislative duties.
When the Mayor intervenes when not requested to do so, in relation to a City Councillor’s statement of fact or opinion during a City Council Meeting, he’s inviting argument, and debate, between a City Councillor(s) and the Mayor. The City Council Meeting is not the venue or the forum for that.
Yet, under the City Charter (Section 25), the Mayor has a right to address the City Council any time he feels like it.
However, traditionally the Mayor has rarely done so – certainly not to intervene in City Council Meetings to correct a City Councillor – or to argue an opinion.
The Mayor’s ongoing habit of interposing himself as a participant in City Council Meetings creates a precedent where a future Mayor could turn the City Council Meetings into a series of Mayoral public relations events – if we ever have a future Mayor who is into self-promotion (marketing), and public relations, that is.
It is not the Mayor’s place at a City Council Meeting to argue with that Councillor about who is right (especially when the Mayor is wrong). The City Councillor is well-advised to refrain from defending himself – because that would only give the Citizenry the fair appearance that he is arguing with the Mayor at a City Council Meeting. That’s not good for public confidence in city government.
I hope when this happens the Citizenry understands 1) that a City Councillor is elected to have opinions – and is elected to state them, and to debate them, and to vote on them, and 2) a City Council Meeting is not the casual place for City Councillor to take on the Mayor in a debate or argument – unless merited by the issue at hand.
If the Mayor believes that a City Councillor’s opinion is not “correct” he is freely able to communicate with that City Councillor at any other time – hopefully before the City Council Meeting.
We all know that one person’s “fact” (never mind opinion) (especially in 2021) is another person’s “disinformation,” and, at least as of right now, a City Councillor gets to have his own opinion.
All that being said, if this is the way it has to be, so be it. The good outweighs the bad. As I said, the surplus of communication and information is a very beneficial aspect of this Mayor’s approach to the Citizenry’s best interests – even if it is a rose with thorns.
But, if this continues, as is the Mayor’s right, I will be reminding the Citizenry during the City Council Meetings (and elsewhere) that Councillors do not argue with the Mayor at City Council Meetings – unless the matter is of relatively major importance. At least, that’s been the dinosaur way before now.
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