Mark Twain once quipped: “Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason.” Although humorous, there is a bit of truth to Sam Clemens’s witty, satirical comment. There comes a time for a change; and, for Jersey City, that time is now.
There is just way too much “Team Fulop” in the way Jersey City conducts its business. Most of the Jersey City council members are aligned with the mayor. To have the mayor and the city council in cahoots reeks of old-fashioned, machine-style politics. Regrettably, Jersey City continues to operate under an archaic governance system – a system that hasn’t changed much since the days of Frank Hague and John Vincent Kenny. Specifically, the mayor has a lot to say about “why,” “what,” “when,” “where,” and “how” municipal resources are expended.
In this day and age, the process that the city employs to commit and obligate public resources should include rigorous management and administrative controls that fosters a robust governance system receptive to fiscal integrity, financial responsibility, and audit readiness.
We’ve seen how the mayor and his council “manipulated” the process to pay for a pedestrian plaza and the Centre Pompidou. The mayor and his loyal council members are willing to invest public money to satisfy a “passing fancy.” Yet, the city’s infrastructure is crumpling at the seams. Every ward within this city has issues with the infrastructure, and those issues need to be addressed. Taxpayer money should be invested to fix those issues, and not used to finance a costly “knee-jerk whim.”
Granted, the mayor should set the vision. The city’s strategic plan – or business plan – should outline priorities, as well as lay out the means to achieve the mayor’s vision. The council should work as an independent body to develop a priority list. The top priorities are resourced first; and, as funding becomes available, the unfunded requirements are addressed.
The city’s council needs to play an active, independent role in this process. The city’s legislative body should be the “honest broker.” Each member of the council should be an uncompromising champion of ethical behavior and a steadfast steward for the public resources placed in his/her trust. A truly independent city council – a council that is not in the mayor’s hip pocket – is the lynchpin to a local government that is open, transparent, responsible, and accountable.
The council needs to have the independent power of the purse. Being the mayor’s “rubber stamp” turns the city into a “feudal society” consisting of “the lord” and “fiefdoms.” And, honestly, we’ve outgrown that type of government.John Di Genio