Jim Webster: Mayor for a year
October 12, 2012
I think it would be fun to be mayor of Steamboat Springs for a year. It would be a "test run" to see how it felt and what could be learned. Of course, it might be the worst year of my life.
Some residents feel that Steamboat would be better off with a mayor instead of the city council structure with a council-appointed chairperson. A mayor would not replace the Steamboat Springs City Council but would co-exist with it, making decisions requiring a majority vote of council members. Changing to a mayor-council structure would require passing some type of referendum by city residents.
We don't seem to do "test runs" with our new ideas on public policy or institutional changes. We often just jump in feet first. Our politics is dominated not by research-based proposals but by ideologically based ones. I am not aware of any study that mayor-run cities are better than council-run cities. But, perhaps another reader can illuminate this issue for us.
The risk of claiming that research-based public policy change is a better approach is that everyone has their own interpretation of the facts. "Figures can lie and liars can figure." To avoid this trap, one has to retain some sort of framework within which to judge new ideas, but be open to being proved wrong on an approach by experiential evidence. How refreshing! Research-based policies might not be as entertaining as ideologically based ones, but haven't we had enough entertainment?
Corporations conduct focus groups, build pilot stores and conduct marketing studies. So why not experiment with me as mayor for one year? We could take a survey at the outset of my term on selected criteria — budget allocation decisions, bus service levels, satisfaction with road maintenance, communication of community goals, openness to resident feedback, ability to attract new business, consensus building, etc. At the end of the year, we would take another survey and measure the change. Voila! We could decide if the mayor (me) made a positive difference as to how the city was run as compared to the previous year based on similar measurements.
There are two apparent weaknesses in the current City Council structure: The council structure does not lend itself to accountability for decisions or to communicating a passionate vision for the city's future. A (good) mayor would improve on these two aspects of city government. For example, is the city "reserve fund" to be used only when the city is on the verge of bankruptcy, or should it be used to fund capital projects like a new police station? If we had a mayor, perhaps we would know the answer.
If I were mayor, I might express the "half-empty glass" view that we should worry every day that the city will go out of existence and therefore we will not spend the reserve fund, i.e., live modestly and everyone will lead safe, if unexciting, lives. I might give the "half-full glass" view that we should invest in assets that will enrich our lives, i.e., our world is full of opportunity and we will be able to cope with the unexpected. Of course, I wouldn't flip-flop between the two views.
Perhaps the best-known mayor of our time is Mayor Michael Bloomberg, of New York City. I have no idea if he is a good mayor, though he did manage to extend his mandated two-term limit to three and he gets a lot of press when a crisis hits New York. I think everyone knows where the "buck" stops.
Would it be fun to be mayor of Steamboat for a year? I propose to experiment with a new title for the position, "iMayor," in the Apple tradition for names. At the end of my year as mayor, I could decide if the "i" stood for interim or indefinite, in the Bloomberg tradition.