Cities need less grandiose leadership, more good managers

Candidates for mayor are campaigning all across Indiana, struggling to be known and favored by Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.

Some of these earnest people are incumbents who have held the job for a few or many years.

Others are members of city councils who want the top job. Still others are government novices who know what a mayor should do because they have insight into the job based on their experiences and observations.

Most candidates tell us they are good folks, blessed by good families and respected by their neighbors for their good deeds. All of them love the community they seek to lead. All of them are guided by the values they learned from their parents and their religious training.

Most candidates seek to inspire us with their vision of the city as it will be under their leadership. They assure us they will be honest, frugal and wise in spending the people’s money. A stronger, better city in the future, widely known for its peace and prosperity, its culture and convenience, can be guaranteed by casting our votes for them.

It’s all most stimulating to the mind and spirit. Yet, they scare me every time I see their ads, read their handouts or hear them speak.

When candidates talk about jobs, schools and workforce development, I know they are blowing smoke because there is little most mayors can do about those important matters. Yes, they can have some marginal influence on businesses and education. However, they would do best to leave the bully pulpit and spend time ensuring that the building codes and health/environmental regulations are enforced.

I want to vote for a person who is focused on being the mayor rather than the visionary leader of my city. I endorse those who are concerned about garbage removal and recycling of our wastes. Give me the candidate who will see to it that the snow is removed promptly when needed, the potholes not just filled, but fixed.

Can I depend on the candidate to treat city workers with respect and to pay them fairly? Will the nieces and nephews of the mayor’s friends, family and followers be denied special favors? Are city contracts going to be given to the competent rather than the connected? Will the indolent and ineffective be fired?

A responsible candidate does not promise to keep tax rates from rising. That candidate tells voters the truth: the Indiana General Assembly has usurped the powers of our cities and towns. In addition, tax rates need to go up to repair the neglect of the past and build for the future. Structures, parks, roads and sewers need maintenance. Meanwhile, we require new ways to manage energy and increase our connectivity with the world.

It is certainly good to have vision. However strategic plans, blue ribbon commissions and focus groups are poor substitutes for effective management of basic city functions.

Morton Marcus is an economist, writer and speaker who may be reached at mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.