A strong mayor? Sure. But first, Montclair council, do your job. (Letter to the editor)
Cary Chevat's Town Square suggestion to study switching to a "strong mayor" form of government under the Faulkner Act is an idea worth considering. However, the real problem he has illuminated is the continued failure of our township councils to actually do their jobs.
They must advise and, if needed, force the township manager and top staff to take actions or implement policies that the decision-making body of council members wants to happen. And the way for them to do that is by simply getting four majority votes.
While council members cannot instruct staff other than the manager verbally to take specific desired actions, they can act like a governing body and do just that by voting on legislation.
Want something done here from the municipality by a certain date? Council members can just pass resolutions or ordinances to mandate it. Concerned the staff won't do it, or will resist and delay? Simply add the words "and the failure to do or provide X will be considered a dereliction of public duty."
Now, if the manager and the top staff do not deliver, individuals can be fired for cause.
Unfortunately, too many council members act like they are helpless sycophants of the administration, rather than controlling it. If only they would fully exercise and use their voting powers and authority.
Under the current governing set-up, both the manager and township attorney can be fired for any reason by a council majority within 30 days. Yet somehow, the demand for better performance and adherence to council policy expressed verbally at council meetings continues to get lost in a finger-pointing haze of non-deliverables — with council members all too frequently saying then that they are victims and really can't control the staff. Wrong.
So while Cary's idea may indeed be a good one, and may be the solution to help solve some confusion and disarray, the onus still comes back to town council members personally to work together and to agree on majority directives through their votes.
With the recent exception of former Mayor Robert Jackson, who by force of personality was able to direct top staff more clearly, we've largely had elected leaders of late who behaved as if municipal operations were really not in their control — when they actually are.
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