Time to restore some sanity to Auburn Council

They say life is 10 percent about what happens to you and 90 percent about how you react.

The same goes for governments: Bad things invariably happen; it's how elected leaders respond to them that counts.

By this measure, the City of Auburn has been ill-served by the current council, and it's a relief to see four new people interested in running for office.

The past two years have been difficult for the city and its council. The recession and resultant state budget cuts have severely tested city government. But the same can be said for school districts and municipalities across the state.

It's the way Auburn's council has reacted to the crisis that has set it apart. Faced with serious challenges, the council has invariably responded with rancor, unreasonable demands and by casting blame.

There is a mature and productive way to work through problems. Unfortunately, that way has eluded the colorful personalities on this council.

We have had everything from councilors walking out of meetings to trailing a firetruck with a video camera. Councilors couldn't even agree on the best way to review their single employee, the city manager. Now several councilors are working behind the scenes to fire him.

The pattern has been for councilors to bicker and issue contradictory orders, then expect Manager Glenn Aho to magically divine their will and produce solutions.

This has developed into a stressful relationship that has left Aho trying to second-guess the will of his fickle bosses.

The council has also been unwilling to stick with its positions, regularly calling for budget cuts and then rescinding them after receiving public pressure.

Aho has turned City Hall inside out trying to make due with less money. High-level employees, including the assistant city manager, fire chief and planning director have been eliminated. The remaining department heads, meanwhile, have been organized into teams.

Councilor Dan Herrick now claims city employees are demoralized and miserable. As a result, he says, phones go unanswered, streets unplowed after snowstorms and less gets accomplished.

But when a city is forced to make as many cuts as Auburn has over the past two years, residents will see some reduction in services.

Still, essential services have been preserved. Police are still patrolling and firetrucks still rolling, if occasionally with a city councilor in pursuit. The street median strips downtown are planted with flowers and recreation programs are up and running.

Taxpayers and politicians like to say government must live within its means. Aho has done his level best to make sure difficult cuts have had the least possible impact on services.

While four new people have announced their intentions to run for council, we hope others will follow. It is time to sweep out the old and bring in fresh ideas and positive attitudes.

Auburn voters still need more candidates for the mayor's position. Incumbent Councilor Belinda Gerry is passing petitions not only for her at-large council seat, but for the mayor's job as well.

Gerry is not the right person for that job and we hope better candidates will step forward.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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Comments

Dan Bilodeau's picture

Propaganda Efforts?

Mr. Gray,

No question mark needed, its propaganda crap! Sun Journal tactics come out strong in this opinion, it's an opinion I can quickly forget.

Although I don't agree with everything you mentioned Mr. Gray, I especially like the part where you reminded folks how our sitting council has kept taxes low. It was those difficult decisions between the city leaders, that friction, those efforts the grinding that some future replacement councilor's will get soft on, they will get all political and spineless and there will go the spending again.

I like our city manager, because he has the youth and the energy to multi-task and address contentious issues that laid dormant in the previous decade. He's willing to take a new approach which was what was obviously needed from the Finigan days. I personally hope he's around long enough to see his ideas meet his objectives.

This sanity the Editor wants to restore at the council level, its only going to cost his newspaper when Taylor (he might be a boring, humorless robot) reports on mundane and political usual s across the bridge, be careful what you wish for.

David  Cote's picture

A tough situation

No matter where the fault may lie there is an obvious disconnect between the council and thr city manager. Perhaps I'm not qualified to state an opinion since I no longer reside in Auburn, but I was a resident a few years back and one of the reasons we moved was due to problems that existed within city government. The bickering, snide remarks and constant confusion are inexcusible and a poor example of how a city government is supposed to work. There are two qualities a city councilor and a city manager need to possess to succeed in their posts ; Commitment to the community and its citizens and integrity. The good people of Auburn need to ask themselves if they feel they are being short changed. It seems they are from both corners and that's a real shame.

 's picture

Talk about a myopic

Talk about a myopic viewpoint. There seems to be a campaign to paint Mr Aho in the best possible light and the council as a bunch of back-stabbing do nothings. Along the way this paper conveniently omits facts and opinions unfavorable to Mr Aho.

The council has repeatedly found inconsistencies in the budgets from year to year and asked the manager for explanations. In response he gives more conflicting numbers. He has presented numbers differently from meeting to meeting seemingly to keep everyone off guard. He brags about transparency, but try to get to the bare facts and you will find transparency in very short supply. Find a real issue and he dismisses you out of hand. The city manager presented the council with a budget that represented adding $1.74 to the mil rate. When the council was done the rate increased only $.27. The council worked hard to find the cuts and keep taxes as low as they could. How is presenting an unreasonable increase an example of doing one's level best?

The high-level employees that you mention did not make Mr Aho happy so he used budget cuts as an excuse to rid the city of people he didn't like. And these cuts don't even make sense when using Mr Aho's own logic. He has stated that the Director of Public Works should stay and that the Deputy Director and two Operations Managers are needed to accomplish succession planning. The subordinates are to learn from the Director so when he leaves, they will know how to run the department. When asked he stresses the importance of succession planning. Now, if succession planning is so vital, why did he get rid of the assistant city manager position? Who is he going to pass his vast knowledge to so that the city may run smoothly should he be let go? Further, adding another level of management runs counter to everything private industry and management consultants recommend. A flatter business usually runs most efficiently.

You use the council's ability to compromise as a strike against it. You state that they change positions under public pressure. But is this not an example of open-mindedness? Previously you have harangued councilors for sticking to their guns as short-sighted and narrow minded.

Could you please have your reporters investigate a bit? I am sure you would find the city employees feelings to be more in line with the council. There is rumor in town that the non-union employees are working to unionize. The rumor states that Mr Aho's changes are largely the reason. Why not investigate that and shed some light on it for your readership? Or would that run counter to your propaganda efforts?

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