Originally created 03/09/02

Connell bill improves



As legislators respond to public outcry over Augusta's dysfunctional government, they are getting creative in finding ways to make structural fixes.

Among "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" bills being passed around the capitol lately is one offered by Rep. Jack Connell, D-Augusta.

Some background is helpful: According to the legislators' attorneys, state lawmakers can't change the duties or job structure of the city administrator - something that observers say is essential to making the city run better. Change, they say, can only be done through city ordinance. That point is being debated, but for now, let's assume it's correct.

Connell creatively addresses the problem of a powerless city administrator by establishing yet another office - that of chief operating officer.

His intention is to move the city administrator over to the new position and let the administrator's position simply remain unfilled.

This portion of Connell's bill has problems:

First, Connell assumes the commission would appoint the current city administrator to the new position of chief operating officer, a logical assumption, except that logic doesn't always prevail at the commission. They could appoint anyone they want.

For instance, commissioners who want to disrupt the chain of command so they can run departments through intimidation tactics and bring more services to their own districts, could hire another person as chief operating officer, thus creating a parallel administration.

All the power to direct day-to-day operations of the government would be with the chief operating officer. Madness, you say? Attend a commission meeting before concluding that this is unthinkable. It is, after all, a ward-politics environment.

Connell's bill addresses such madness by making the mayor the city's chief executive officer, allowing him to remain on the commission to break tie votes and giving him veto power over ordinances and budgets - including a line-item veto.

His veto could be overridden by a vote of seven.

This may be enough to bring order to what could develop into political chaos. But creating a chief operating officer, while not eliminating the administrator's position leaves a loophole that may be regretted.

See Sunday's editorial analysis of an alternate bill presented by Rep. Ben Allen, D-Augusta.