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Dick Palmer: Raising City Council's pay is bad idea

There is a movement afoot to raise city councilors' pay to attract better candidates. Such a concept is like putting the cart before the horse, and that just isn't realistic. What is needed is an effort to uncomplicate the process and elect candi...

There is a movement afoot to raise city councilors' pay to attract better candidates. Such a concept is like putting the cart before the horse, and that just isn't realistic. What is needed is an effort to uncomplicate the process and elect candidates who simply want to give something of themselves back to the community. It is not necessary to have a college degree to understand community issues and seek solutions. What's needed is common sense and a dedication that is not cluttered by personal benefits and ego trips.
Today, too many elected officials become experts overnight, or so it seems. If a coalition of five city councilors banded together, they could dominate the entire budget operation of city government, with or without rhyme or reason. We see some of that already in place in our present city government structure. Here is where we stand today.
The present city charter was established in 1956 as a mayor council form of government. Mayor and council seats are for four-year terms, with council seats staggered every two years. There are five district seats and four at-large seats on the council. The council is the legislative arm of government; the mayor and staff operate the executive arm; and there is the semi-judicial branch as well, supervised by the Duluth City Attorney's office.
The point being made here is that city government, like the state and federal offices, operates under a three-phase tier: executive, legislative and judicial. Each has far reaching powers, but each must operate within certain parameters. Prior to 1956, the council operated under the commission form of government with full-time commissioners and a weak mayor form of leadership. Outside of St. Louis County government, there are few commission forms of government today throughout the country.
In recent years there has been an increasing conflict between the executive and legislative elements of our city government. It appears, some councilors are overstepping their authority in an attempt to micromanage city operations that are totally dependent on executive leadership. This has to stop. New councilors need to be elected, and an effort to redefine local government should be a first priority after this fall's elections.
We don't see raising councilor pay as a priority to obtain good leadership. We see a need to emphasize the role of city councilors and promote the idea that good candidates come from the neighborhoods, people with ideas and a willingness to listen to people concerns and give something back to the community, not take over city government.
One last point. Some say Duluth needs more government presence because of our northern location. Nonsense, we need more community leadership, not government control.

Dick Palmer is the former editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 729-6470 or by e-mail at rpalmer@duluth.com .

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