Questions and Answers About Vision Council
Discourse on the Vision Council
|Robert W. Kaufman
1000 Carolee Lane
Kalamazoo, Michigan 49008
June 16, 1998
Mr. Robert B. Jones, Mayor
Dear Mayor Jones,
This letter is in support of certain proposals made to the City Commission by the Charter Review Committee.
The suggestions made here are designed to make more explicit the first leadership position for the city and to clarify the election mandate from the voters to the Mayor and the City Commission.
I will restrict my comments to proposals dealing with the direct election of the mayor, his term of office, the terms for commissioners, and representation.
1. The Direct Election of Mayor. The direct election of the Mayor will increase the stature and promote the leadership of the person in that office. Any person nominated for mayor therewith expresses his/her desire to lead the City Commission and to accept responsibility for policies and administration during the term of office. While campaigning, the candidate for Mayor would be expected to identify problems and lay out a plans for their solution.
In a nonpartisan election, the City is less assured that there will be two candidates competing for the office. But such a competitive tradition would be desirable. However, having at least one plan presented during the campaign would provide the voters with information on a direction the City would be taking, and identify a person in the mayor's chair who would be held accountable.
This procedure is also intended to foster spirited campaigns, while allowing continuity on the Commission. Mayors would be expected to lead, candidates for City commission may give support to a portion or all of the program sponsored by a candidate for Mayor. Commission candidates may also campaign independently. The electorate then, has the option and the opportunity to choose members of the Commission holding positions compatible with the program offered by a candidate for mayor.
A corollary to this process would suggest that a candidate for mayor would lead a majority of like-minded commission candidates to victory. This gives considerably more order to the process than the current system, under which there is no well thought out program for consideration by the electorate. When there is no program to consider, voters are less likely to turn out and after the election it is difficult to identify a mandate to do anything.
2 The Four-year Term for Mayor and Commissioners. During most of this century small and medium sized cities such as Kalamazoo had few major issues to confront. Most questions were incremental and could be settled by compromise and consensus. If there are few issues, and therefore few major decisions, a two-year term for Mayor and Commissioners is adequate. But today, cities of our size are grappling with additional issues many of which are interrelated and loaded with diverse values. They include such issues as environmental, public health, social problems and economic development programs. It takes time to identify problems, design policies, and administer their successful solution. A two year term is not long enough. Leaders who are elected for a four-year term have more opportunity to mobilize community resources to solve problems. After four years. the electorate would be in a good position to require an accounting.
The Mayor should continue as chair of the Commission and vote on matters before the Commission.
3. Rotating Terms for the Commission. Following the above rationale, a four-year term for Commissioners would be unifying. The structure would tend to develop a team psychology among mayor and commissioners. Interest in elections is spurred by leaders promoting their programs before the public. If they are challenging the voter will turnout in larger percentages. It would also encourage more care in the design stage for new policies and permit preparation for their execution. We recall that it was the election of an inexperienced majority to the Commission in 1995 which stimulated interest in the current charter review. To protect against another such eventuality it would be prudent to arrange for half of the Commission to be elected every four years. Using a four year cycle, in years when the Mayor is elected a maximum of four members (including the mayor) would be replaced. In off-years, only three commissioners would be replaced. While this structure is not foolproof, it would retain some of the continuity of public officials exercising authority in our City system. There is no protection against the resignation of Commission members and the Mayor.
Continuing the current two-year term for Commissioners tends to place Commission members outside the orbit of the mayor's program. It makes more sense to design the structure encouraging the mayor to lead, prior to the campaign, during the campaign, and after the election. That would invite harmony between compatible candidates. The two-year term may inject new personalities into the equation, present some new political parameters and could reflect a shift in electorate preference. But an election every two years does not lend itself to creative policy development, harmony, or continuity.
4, Representation. Kalamazoo City cannot be proud of its record in representing those citizens who live on the East and North sides of the community. Since these citizens are required to pay taxes they deserve to be represented by an elected commissioner who understands their community economic and cultural problems. Decades of suggesting that at-large representatives will give attention to the entire city is clearly discredited by the city's record. Representation is an intrinsic test of democracy that is lacking in our system, and there is a moral obligation to render to these citizens an active voice and a vote on the Commission.
One simple and direct way to do this is to allow for some members of the Commission to be elected by wards and others elected at-large. A formula is easily devised once the size of the Commission is determined. The City must no longer deny direct representation to any portion of the city either because of its ethnic or economic composition. Arguments which suggest that a ward or district system is divisive only evades the political problems. A political system should be designed to encourage dissent and disagreements to come into open discussion. To ignore political problems generates alienation, defiance, and loss of hope. A functional political system must resolve political problems rather than pretend they do not exist.
It is my hope that these suggestions will assist you and the Commission as the Charter issue comes to closure.
Robert W. Kaufman
Attachment: Selected Resume Elements
ROBERT W. KAUFMAN
SELECTED RESUME ELEMENTS
Degrees: Ph.D. 1961; M.A. 1953, both at American. B.S. 1946,Wisconsin
Honors: Fellow, Center for the Study of Values, University of Colorado, 1985-86
WMU, University Distinguished Service Award. 1985
National Political Science Honor Society, Pi Sigma Alpha, 1960.
Experience: Professor of Political Science, 1959-95 (various ranks) Director, University Center for Environmental Affairs, WMU, 1979-84.
Director, Science for Citizens Center, WMU, 1979-84.
Director, Institute of Public Affairs, WMU, 1970-80.
Director, Environmental Studies Program, WMU, 1971-80.
Research Writer, Congressional Quarterly, Inc., Washington, D.C. 1954-1959.
Military, U.S. Navy, World War II, 1943-1946. Currently, Lieutenant Commander, USNR, (Retired.)
Retired from WMU in January 1995..