By Seth Richardson
It’s an axiom that municipal government is always and forever bloated with featherbedding bureaucrats. There has never been a city, in the entire existence of mankind, that did not have legions of useless Peter Principle bureaucrats stuffed in every corner of City Hall enjoying fat salaries and doing little at the public’s expense. There has never been a city that could not usefully afford to fire at least half of the bureaucrats who burden the public purse. There has never been a city, including Colorado Springs, where the public would not benefit substantially from removing layers of bureaucratic waste and devolving the truly necessary duties (and commensurate pay) onto the people who actually do the work that the public needs to have done.
In case you don’t know what a “Peter Principle” bureaucrat is, it derives from the 1969 book “The Peter Principle”, written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. The primary axiom of the book is “In a Hierarchy Every Employee Tends to Rise to His Level of Incompetence.” What this means, briefly, is that a person will rise to the level within the hierarchy where he does his job just well enough not to get fired or demoted, but not well enough to be advanced to the next level, which leaves the individual stuck in a position that he cannot excel at because of his own incompetence, doing only as much actual work as will keep him from being fired, and forces the actual work of the company to be performed by those below him, who have not yet risen to their level of incompetence. Take the master machinist, who is highly competent and qualified to machine any part you can imagine. Because he’s good at his job, in an ordinary hierarchy, he deserves advancement and will be promoted to Shop Steward. Problem is he may be a lousy people person and therefore an incompetent Shop Steward, but not incompetent enough to be fired or demoted, so he has risen to his level of incompetence, and will remain there forever, while other, younger, less skilled machinists take over his workload, to the detriment of the company.
Nowhere is this principle more thoroughly demonstrated than in city government, where shovel-leaning Peter Principle supervisors and bureaucrats are the stuff of legend.
Because the city need not compete in the marketplace, because it gets its income from taxation and produces absolutely nothing and only consumes resources, which frees it from any motivation to maximize fiscal responsibility and economy, it inevitably becomes stuffed with Peter Principle bureaucrats whose primary interest is in protecting their own sinecure and salary. At least in a private company, such waste eventually affects the bottom line, and redundant, incompetent employees can be fired. But in municipalities, bureaucratic bloat is always rampant and nearly impossible to prevent, and from time to time the taxpayers have to take direct control and cut away the fat. For Colorado Springs, now is a golden moment to do so.
The first sign of unnecessary bureaucratic bloat in any city is the hiring of a City Manager. City managers are professional bureaucrats purported to be “experts” at municipal administration who have, at the core, no greater interest than to justify their position by convincing elected officials and taxpayers that more and more money is needed in order to keep the city functioning properly. The hiring of a City Manager is the first step on the inevitable slide down the slippery slope of municipal waste, fraud and corruption because it insulates the elected officials from direct accountability for the day-to-day operations of the city, and therefore it isolates the citizens themselves from effective representative oversight of their municipal employees. So long as the Mayor and Council have the plausible deniability of saying “Well, the City Manager, who is an expert, says we have to do this…” the public has little choice but to accept whatever the City Manager foists off on them because they cannot themselves recall the City Manager, nor is the Council obligated to fire her, even when she is demonstrably fiscally irresponsible, at the public’s request.
In a “strong Mayor” system, the Mayor is the “city manager” and is elected (and paid) to be an experienced executive and manager who is responsible for the necessary executive decisions required to keep the city running properly and efficiently. This places the executive responsibility and liability where it belongs, upon the elected official who is directly responsible to the People, and who can be unelected if he or she fails to properly manage the city in accordance with the will of the citizens. This is what Colorado Springs needs, a well-paid, well-qualified Mayor who is the factual “the buck stops here” administrator of the city, and is directly subject to the will of the People if he or she fails to manage efficiently and properly.
But when a City Manager is injected into the equation, everything changes, and the person who actually runs the city is no longer directly responsible to the People, she is responsible only to the Council, and as long as she can convince the Council that she knows what’s best, her position is secure, which is all she’s really interested in achieving. And given the level of expertise of Colorado Spring’s part-time City Council and Mayor, it’s evidently not very difficult to persuade them that taxes need to be raised and the city payroll must not be cut. That’s evidence enough of the failure of the City Manager model to justify changing it.
The idea of a City Manager who cuts employees, finds economies, minimizes bureaucratic and wasteful supervision, and reduces the size of city government is an oxymoron to the entire concept of City Managers.
Think about it for a moment. If a City Manager was doing her job as the public interest demands, she’d be cutting jobs, salaries and budgets to the bone and would be slave-driving city employees to make them work harder for less money and she would be eliminating wasteful and redundant positions by the dozen, to eliminate every possible Peter Principle bureaucrat and shovel-leaning employee on payroll. She’d be telling the council that the “enterprise” systems are a wasteful, redundant and fraudulent system that costs the taxpayers more than minimally necessary. She’d be telling the council that her job is to come in, ruthlessly slash budgets and maximize efficiency and job performance, and then leave, cutting her own budget.
That’s what the public interest requires of its City Manager.
But no City Manager on the planet has any interest in doing what the public interest requires, because it is in the best economic interests of the City Manager to make both the public and the Council believe that she is indispensable, and that the city is so complex and difficult to manage that only a highly-paid, elite, professional bureaucrat like her can possibly do the job, and that without her the city will fall to ruin and riot. It’s in her interests to lie, mumble and obfuscate and persuade the credulous on the Council that city bureaucracy must grow ever larger and larger, and that more and more money and staff are required to deal with the complex and arcane “needs” of the city. To a City Manager, the public are a bunch of drooling idiots who have no idea what’s best for them or what it costs to care for them, who can and should be soaked for whatever she thinks will best justify her position and salary.
This motivation should be painfully obvious to anyone with half a brain. City Managers aren’t about managing the city, they are about managing their careers, which requires that they make themselves indispensable to the city bureaucracy by withholding information and expertise from the elected officials, who, by hiring a City Manager, abdicate the responsibility that THEY accepted to actually make the hard decisions and serve the public when they were elected. When the City Manager becomes the gatekeeper of information, and the acknowledged “expert” in managing the city, she has gained inestimable power and control, and will not relinquish it voluntarily, ever.
The entire concept of City Managers is a Progressive concept that holds that the administration and operations of government ought not be vested in elected officials or political appointees, who should be left to discussing politics and policy, but rather administration should be dealt with only by the intellectually elite professional bureaucrats of the world, who are “above” political issues and are all so very much smarter and wiser than we, the lumpen Proletariat. This has been the course of Progressivism since Woodrow Wilson, and the creeping cancer it comprises is now found everywhere, including the City Manager’s office.
I’ll have more to say about Woodrow Wilson and the Progressives in the future, but for now suffice it to say that the City Manager model of municipal organization and operation is highly detrimental to the taxpayer’s wallet, and should be dispensed with forthwith and permanently. Doing so, and placing the executive authority, and the executive liability for proper administration in the hands of the Mayor, who is himself subject to ratification or rejection by the People, is the best way to run Colorado Springs.
Or the United States.
© 2009 Altnews