Good Government Requires Better Leadership
City leaders need to work towards common goals in a transparent manner, says city council member.
By City Councilor Candace Hollingsworth (Ward 1)
Monday night’s Council meeting was no shining moment for our great city of Hyattsville. It was the culmination of three major issues that have plagued the council since the May 2011 elections: disparate views on transparency, consensus building, and organizational structure.
In what should have been a two-hour meeting to discuss a $10 million capital improvement plan, employee pay raises, technology upgrades, and new policies under development, we failed to make it out of the gate.
Put simply, we could not agree on an agenda—we couldn’t decide where we were going.
Our state elected officials want to invest in what will likely be a multi-million dollar parking garage so that visitors to our home on the Route 1 corridor will have a place to park. We are awaiting the development of a LEED certified, top-tier public performance and meeting venue to become home to more performances in the Gateway Arts District. We must recruit four to five talented professionals to help manage city operations while keeping us poised for growth and success.
How do we accomplish all of this in a climate where dysfunction and a lack of civility appear to have become the esprit de corps?
What we have is not working and there is no better time to fix it—and start fresh—than now. To me, our agenda for accomplishing this is clear. We must set the rules of play, be the policymakers for the city and not the administrators, and support staff by leading solidly towards a common goal and implementing policies and practices that communicate their value to this city.
This council inherited practices that may have worked previously, but find no real place among many of the current council members.
The council’s agenda is set by a committee of three. Much of the background information used in setting the agenda is closely guarded by that committee, not available for inspection by other council members until they agree the time is “appropriate.”
This practice inhibits true transparency, creates awkward exchanges between council members and city staff, fuels discontent on the dais, and ultimately, renders us incapable of reaching consensus. Information sharing benefits us all and helps to build accountability in city government.
We need to set rules and procedures for ourselves while leaving future Councils free to set administrative practices as they see fit. At a time when the State of Maryland as a whole is receiving low marks for open government, Hyattsville can be the beacon for transparency, openness and effective governance.
Developing policy or charting courses of action that affect the public cannot, and should not, be done in a vacuum. Council work sessions should be used to voice concerns, get questions answered, and workshop new ideas in the public view with sight on upcoming agendas. That has not happened in my 10 months on the council.
Instead, we are encouraged to send comments via email or, for some of us, voice concerns privately only to receive a metaphorical pat on the head and assurance that everything will “be okay” if a response at all. We have to get beyond the notion that any one of us can do this job alone. We all fail, we all hit and miss at some point in life and it is bound to happen on the council dais. The strength of this council relies on our ability to see that each member of the group has something to offer to fill that void. This is our path towards true consensus.
Our staffing level is critical and in order to grow successfully, we need to pump life into it. We have five mission critical vacancies at the moment and have recently hired a new Director of Human Resources. Despite the progress in that area, we have yet to determine a citywide reorganization plan or authorize recruitment for those positions. Instead, we have entertained piecemeal employee bonuses and pay raises and the mayor has developed a proposal to reduce our spending on employee benefits while, in some cases, increasing employee out-of-pocket expenses.
Errant pay increases for some and benefits changes to all is not the way to breathe life into a administration that works doggedly to get the job done, day in and day out. Our staff expects us to lead and the first step is admitting that we need help.
Let’s begin with authorizing recruitment for our city administrator, making a decision on the city’s organization, and then allowing him or her to be the conductor with the staff he or she needs to support the effort. A budget that fails to take this into consideration is a budget that sentences us to another year of balancing acts.
For our council, disagreement on the meeting agenda speaks volumes to the dysfunction perceived by those faithful few who attend or watch our meetings each Monday and felt by those of us on the dais. It is time for us to put the dysfunction to rest in order to lead this city through a period of emergence as a shining example of what is right in Prince George’s County.
In order to accomplish this, we must first get on the same page. We need to set the agenda.
All those in favor?