An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. "A fight is going on inside me," he said to the boy.
"It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil—he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego." He continued, "The other is good—he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you—and inside every other person, too."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf will win?"
The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."
Monday, October 30, 2006
The van Horn-Mitchell stands still today in Deanwood, Maryland, silent sentinel to proud Prince George’s. If ever there was a structure in Prince George’s County which deserved preservation for the history that passed through its doors, this house is it. Not only is it representative of a slave plantation house, but it was the home to a state delegate, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, state senator and United States congressman, Archibold van Horn. And, then ,after a stay in James Fowler’s family, which perhaps was engaged in helping African-Americans escape from slavery as part of the underground railroad, it was bought by Benjamin and Clara Mitchell in the summer of 1940.
We save houses for their architectural interest or unique design features. We save buildings to show styles of times gone past, and we preserve sites in which important people and events took place. It is easy, it seems, to save a large grand structure of wealth from times past, but harder, by far, to realize that the homes of ordinary people, who achieved far from ordinary things, are just as important.
After a fire the day before Thanksgiving in 1991, enough of Prince George’s County’s community, led by a lawyer named Wayne Curry, sprang into action to save and rebuilt the structure. Now, it is time to come once more to support and preserve the house in a manner which it deserves. A house, in which Portia Washington Pittman, Malcolm X, Mohammed Ali, Anwar Sadat and Elijah Mohammed visited, conversed and held forth on matters of importance to the African American community and to the people of the Untied States at large, is a major contributing resource to the preservation of history in this county and in this country.
The Mitchells loved to speak about the community and the house, even the unexplained tunnel in the basement. Today the house is for sale, and the proud history is hidden, perhaps as an embarrassment, more likely, because someone feels it would lower the value at sale. Instead of touting history, history is obscured and lightly glossed over. This county, this community must stand up and preserve what is left of the structure before more uninformed alterations take place. Prince George’s County has much work to do in order to preserve the fast disappearing African American history of the county and the Mitchell House is a symbol which must not be lost.
Besides saving the structure from further abuse, oral histories need to be secured, perhaps an archeological study undertaken, and, at the very least, a history of the people and their times in and near this house needs to be written.
There is much to do, and little time;
history slips away at night, and is lost in the mists of memory.
Friday, October 27, 2006
Recent conversation in print suggests that it is a simple matter for ten people to consider and reach agreement and therefore the charter changes are a small price to pay for perfect government. “The information given to the county executive to examine before making decisions can simply be duplicated for the County Council. Surely, a body of nine, who usually vote in a unified manner, can handle analyzing the decisions of one. Thorough reviews would be processed seamlessly; questionable decisions deserve to be kept in limbo until answers are made clear” (Gazette.com)
This is the classic statement of elites, fearing democracy, which proffer the argument that 1) if everyone in a group has interests in common, then they will act collectively to achieve them; and 2) in a democracy, the greatest concern is that the majority will tyrannize and exploit the minority. Mancur Olson, Jr. . Indeed, the proponents claim that, if in fact, these amendments are meant to control the chief executive; then their very nature is unarguably in the best interest of their readers.
The need to create vertical, shifting coalitions of influence to achieve a working majority will assure that the common good is held captive to individual (political) gain. The complexity that will occur under these proposed changes, and the difficulty of navigating the new political reality will mean that citizens and business will have to hire professionals skilled at forging these new coalitions of power. In addition, trying to hold the new collective executive accountable, will give rise, rather, to finger pointing blurring the abilities of the voters to discern the cause of the delay, inaction or governmental misstep.
There is in the public discourse the idea that these ballot questions, if approved, would somehow remove politics from government, by adding more government. But actually the fear is about the exercise of raw, absolute, political power. Of course, because of the many commissions and, for example, term limits, a chief executive already is limited. So this is an attempt to constrain him or her even more. And to what end? To prevent him or her from actually dynamically using the power of the office to reach out and respond to his or her constituents who placed the person in the office in the first place. We are faced here with a power sharing grab.
The resources at the hand of a strong chief executive can react to the needs of the people who placed him in office quickly and decisively. This power to send men and money to a particular area in the county can be seen as punitive when one section benefits and not another. But if that is true, then imagine nine parochial interest groups continuously vying to control a portion of the public funds in order to satisfy the needs of their sub section of the county. What you will have is on going deal making in order to spread resources everywhere and a reluctance to fix and solve challenges in a specific place and time. The county executive is the only person elected by the entire county and therefore the only person accountable to all the electorate. The voters should expect and should hold accountable that this person elected by the majority will have the best interests of the majority in mind as an end goal of his or her government.
But no matter the reasons, the amendments are still is BAD FOR COUNTY GOVERNMENT! Just vote NO!
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
This is the headline from a weblog posted on October 15th from an article in the
I continue to search for any examples to support the position that voting for these Horribly Bad For County Government amendments would bring our county into line with other jurisdictions. What I do find is summed up in the second quote from the article. “Other proposed charter changes would require the council's approval before positions could be added to county agencies or before transfers of more than $250,000 could be made within county departments. Although the council must now sign off on the county's budget, the executive has significant power to reprogram money after its approval. Eliminating those powers would give the council wide authority to determine priorities of government departments.”
Whatever the original idea, these five amendments are bad for business, bad for government, and bad for the county. What we need is more democracy, not less. We need more direct accountability, not more fetters and chains, and temporal coalitions built to gain aggregations of interest groups necessary to move votes of consultations. We need action, direction, and execution. We have already the tools to watch over excesses; we need enforce the current laws and regulations if we sense the taint of corruption. We need to trust that we the voters will deal with the chief executive if he strays too far a-field. And remember, we have already limited the extent of his or her power with term limits.
Building coalitions of interest groups already is a challenge which taxes many local groups who try to move government. Adding to the layer of complexity is not a solution, but an impediment. The ballot and the vote,; not the expanded legislative partnership, is what we need.
Vote NO BCFGH on November 7th, and vote for democracy.
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
A local government’s limited ability to make effective policy reinforces the parochialisms of its leaders. (Paraphrased from Dr. Richard C. Schragger’s Can Strong Mayors Empower Weak Cities?) I am going to paraphrase and quote extensively from his work which you may read at the link above. There is something vaguely anti-democratic about trying to limit the power of a strong executive elected by the voters to lead. Fear of this power, which in local politics is wielded directly and immediately causes some well meaning people to attempt to restrict and constrain the people’s elect official. There is a strong revulsion to the exercise of raw power which is easily visible in local politics. There the rewarding of contracts and the direction of monies can be seen to smell of corruption, but this same mix of dispensation is exactly the attraction to political power. The ability to get something, done right now, for the right people, at the right place.
The past decades have seen a movement to restrict the power of executives and to divide the politics from the administration of the county’s business. In some sense, we have done this with the burden of Park and Planning which supposedly insulates the public from electoral abuse in making land development choices. How many of you believe that? The attempt to constrain the executive is a reflection of an innate distrust of democracy. The most severe form of tyranny, someone once said, is the tyranny of the majority for there is no escape but treason. And so there is an immediate short sighted attempt to reign in a chief executive, and in doing so, limit his or her very ability to do whose things for which the voters elected him or her in the first place.
Again quoting from Dr. Scgragger, “…the gap between formal authority and political influence is the arena in which much relevant policy is made.” Given this reality, there is an inclination to fragment executive power and to place this power in the hands of elite run boards and commissions, of which, I submit, there are enough in place to constrain the executive, as I serve on several. Today, political elites attempt to move power from the strong central authority and towards the wards or councilmanic districts. The end result is to disperse political power. This diffuse system lacks accountability and worse dynamic potential.
So in the end, we are diluting and weakening our chief executive’s abilities to respond quickly and decisively to our needs as citizens of Prince George’s County. We already have limited the power of the chief executive with term limits, with boards and commissions and with a robust strong council system. We need not make things more complicated in the hope of getting something ill-defined. Democracy is the worse form of government except for all the other forms of government. Fear of democracy is not a solution. Elect and hold accountable; use the laws already in place and from time to time pass resolutions and county code additions to fix problems unforeseen today. Let us boldly and proudly go forth into this century with our council legislating and our county executive managing. Vote NO for BCFGH.
On the ballot questions we will vote NO to question B which would direct the county government to not exceed the number of positions in each grade for any specific agency as approved in the budget without returning to the council to for approval. This is a time consuming constraint on the ability of the executive to react to emergencies and changing situations. More hands in the wheel when changing lanes is not necessarily the right time for committee decision making.
We will also vote NO to question C which would give the legislative branch the right to ear-mark for its own uses 1% of the total annual budget. This is the so-called “revenue enhancement amendment. Not only would we have to track the executive for grants and contracts but now we would have to follow the money through nine council people. The amount of effort and time to build vertical coalitions of interest group would discourage small and minority business.
NO will also be the vote on amendment F which is the attempt to restrict by adding a consulting by the council feature to the letting of small and minority personal service contracts by the executive. This one would effectively take the very people who benefit, small and minority businesses out of the picture for the same reasons as mentioned in the last paragraph.
G is a NO because it constricts, constrains, and confines the executive from responding promptly, professionally, and purposefully to unforeseen emergencies and situations which arise from changing times and events. This is bad management and bad government. Someone needs to respond when the voter calls. Committees can review later, by the voter needs help now, not after consultation. Equipment needs be purchased before the patient dies, at once, with the shortest amount of delay.
And H is an additional delay which we do not need. We need people appointed and at work for us quicker. We should be asking that government try to move faster not slower. This amendment, which would extend the appointment time for top level and legislatively confirmed positions on commissions from 30 days to 45 days, should get a NO vote.
How should remember these charter amendments for proud Prince George’s? Horribly Bad For County Government. Vote NO!
Saturday, October 21, 2006
Prince George’s County voters will be asked to decide on at least five amendments, anyone of which by itself might fly under the radar but when taken together substantively alter the present form of government. Local newspaper editorials and articles present either a confusing explanation as to why these are good for government or couch the explications in terms of a reported feud which can be found only by reading articles in the same newspaper. If there is a feud, then voting for BCFG&H is short-sighted. If there is no feud, then these charter questions are simply Horribly Bad For County Government.
First a summary:
County Bill 70, CB70, would direct the county government to not exceed the number of positions in each grade for any specific agency as approved in the budget without returning to the council for approval. This is a direct restraint of the ability of the chief executive officer to move personnel to address problems and challenges immediately without his legislative partners’ involvement. An analogy could be presented with a corporation’s CEO and its Board of Directors. Exactly how many people does it take to make management decisions? Why is the legislative policy branch involved in executive decisions, unless of course it wants to be part of the executive branch of government, too. We have a balance of power; the council legislates and the executive operates. This amendment would blur the lines and cause undue complications and delay in the day-to-day operations of local government.
CB71 would extend the appointment time for top level and legislatively confirmed positions on commissions from 30 days to 45 days. I should think that we would want to move in the other direction and speed the process up not slow it down. I leave it to the reader to decide if slow is good when making decisions to fill pot holes, provide health services, public safety, and emergency services, among others.
CB72 is very interesting because it would give the legislative branch the right to ear-mark for its own uses 1% of the total annual budget. The reasoning suggested is that the executive has to come back to the council any way to account for overtime and emergency overruns, so the council should just keep that 25 million or so dollars and use it as the members see fit. To me it sounds like a special projects fund meaning that vertical columns of influence will not lobby nine people instead of one in order to lay hands on the money for county projects. Accountability would be spread over nine instead of one, and worse small and minority businesses would be hard-pressed to afford the lobbyist needed to open all the doors necessary to build a coalition to spend the money.
CB73 violates a fundamental power of a CEO, who, when confronted by an unexpected emergency, may choose to put a hold on one project and, within budget guidelines and constraints, spend the money on the emergency. The CEO, both in a corporation and in government, is held accountable for the choices made by elections. We seem to be presented with a fear of democracy; that the person elected to lead and make decisions may need oversight votes in addition to the electorate’s votes. The delay in consultation and the lobbying pressure is no way to run a government.
CB74 is the famous or infamous, depending on which floor in the County Administrative building one works, "personal contracts" restrictions. This bill at least seems on the surface to be reasonable, if the end goal is to tie up all small government contracts in a stew of deal making which will be needed to obtain a contract. The ability to respond fast to an emergency or to a constituent request through the letting of a contract as defined in this charter amendment will require a business to solicit a majority of the council as well as the executive branch in order to collect the oversight majority vote to sustain the business opportunity.
What are the voters being asked to do, but have a legislative executive form of government instead of a strong single office held accountable every four years and limited by term limits. These amendments are bad for county government, and suggest a fear by a governing elite of the majority. In order to make executive decisions in the face of pressing public need, coalitions built around nine councilmanic districts will have to be built involving more lobbyists, not fewer, and more time not less before anything gets done.
In a few days I will review what happens to investment in urban centers when the executive branch is weakened, and talk about the flight of capital, and accordingly business.