Class is in session: Public Budgeting, Public Personnel Administration and more

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Readers of The Flash Today’s newest reporting can be pardoned for thinking the circus had come to town, set up shop in city hall, and taken over the governance of Stephenville.

Last week, after The Flash Today reported that the city council was busily looking for spending cuts to free up funds for new spending on economic development, as mandated by Prop 1, I commended it for finally grasping an important Public Budgeting 101 principle—if spending is to be raised somewhere and without a tax increase, it must be cut somewhere else.  Now I think a lesson in Public Personnel Administration 101 is in order too.  So class is in session.

Dr. Malcolm Cross
Dr. Malcolm Cross

After the director was sacked, she had every right to tell her side of the story, and the Empire-Tribune acted fairly and reasonably in letting her use itself to do so.  But it is equally fair and reasonable to insist that the other side of the story be told as well.  That is what the city council member giving information to The Flash Today is now doing.

The relevant story in The Flash Today can be found here:  (https://theflashtoday.com/2015/08/29/sex-allegations-no-video-tape-lies-and-cover-ups-at-stephenville-city-hall-part-1/) .  One part is particularly telling.  The council member who’s sharing his information with The Flash Today also questioned, last January in a letter to the Empire-Tribune which I copied on Crosswise on Politics, the wisdom of hiring the departed director in the first place.  As he wrote then, she had been dismissed from three different jobs in the previous six years.  This doesn’t mean she should not have been hired by the city—the mere fact of many jobs in a short period of time conclusively proves nothing–but as any first year public administration student knows, this job history was a red flag, a warning that something might be off.  The truly responsible course of action would have been to first find out why the job seeker had had so many jobs in so short a period of time.  Did the administrator and the council do so in this case?  And what did they find out if they did so?  We can’t be certain.  But if they failed to make an effective inquiry before hiring her, they were most negligent and practically guaranteeing that what The Flash Today is reporting would come to pass. 

But what’s also troubling is that this controversy is surrounding the hiring and firing of an official involved in the city council’s signature policy area—economic development.  The apparent rationale for the election of this current crew, and for the firings—oops!  I meant resignations and retiring—of key city personnel—to date has been the desire of the current council to take the city in “a new direction,” which means a new economic development authority, more personnel, and more spending  (without raising taxes, of course).  If what the city council member is telling The Flash Today is true, then key decisions in this area are being made with a shocking lack of competence.

So, as I wrote last week, it’s time for our decision makers to get their act together.  They wanted the jobs they now have, so they’d better start learning to do them better. 

And the public must start taking advantage of the efforts of The Flash Today, the Empire-Tribune, and others to lower the barrier of secrecy surrounding the work of our decision makers.  Too many important issues—the budget, the tax rate, the hiring of new directors, and the development of new spending policies as mandated by Prop 1—are coming down the pike to allow anything but the best efforts of our decision makers and the greatest scrutiny by the public.

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