At too many meetings I hear the phrase “city staff recommends” or “city staff felt” or “city staff decided”. At too many meetings I sit in stunned disbelief at the absurdity of the recommendations or decisions of the “city staff”. What I never hear is which people make up the “city staff”. In any case, when I question a recommendation or decision of “city staff” or I rail against the lack of accountability for “city staff”, I feel guilty. I feel guilty because “city staff” is a broad brush and, technically, includes too many city employees that, I feel, are doing an amazing job.
When I took Citizen’s Academy in 2017, I was incredibly impressed with the commitment to excellence on the part of the members of the “city staff” who shared an overview of their departments with us. It just doesn’t seem fair to include these employees by using the generic term “city staff”.
And it doesn’t seem particularly fair to use that generic term “city staff” when I think the staff responsible for so much of the blight in our neighborhoods is the leadership staff of the redevelopment department or the planning department. When I find myself disagreeing with a recommendation or decision of “city staff”, it is most often a redevelopment project manager or planning department doing the presentation. Are these the mysterious people of “city staff”? Are there others?
Perhaps there is only one member of “city staff” because I have been told that no one recommends or decides anything in city hall without the approval of the city manager. Whether that is true or not, the city manager is the person in charge. The city manager is the one truly responsible for the decisions of “city staff”, whether he directs those decisions or not. Until we have the names of the mysterious people of “city staff”, I think we need to assign all recommendations and decisions and accountability to the city manager.
I only wish our city commissioners could muster an occasional tiny bit of curiosity and skepticism regarding the recommendations of the mysterious people of “city staff”. I only wish our city commissioners could muster the resolve to hold the city manager accountable for anything.