Finger-pointing, blame, obstinate political leadership, stubborn inability to compromise, allegations of criminal wrongdoing, indecisive leadership, interruption in services, gridlock, instability and uncertainty all leading to government shutdown.
I had intended to write a column this week about the budget crisis in Washington and the shutdown of the Federal government over the holidays. But, as I started writing, I realized everything I was going to say about the national scene seems to be playing out in our own backyard. That long list above is equally applicable to Mount Vernon. And, we have to deal with it. Of all the commentators and talking heads to weigh in, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee described it the best, and it’s relevant here. “This is a made-up fight,” he said. “This is something that is unnecessary. It’s a spectacle and candidly, it’s juvenile.”
As I prepare to be sworn in as President of the Mount Vernon City Council on January 2nd, I do so in the middle of one of the nastiest and most polarized times in our City’s recent history. It’s a daunting challenge to say the least. Mostly, I’m concerned for the residents of Mount Vernon, particularly those who rely on government services. Winter is coming in earnest and now is not the time for childish political games. It’s time for the elected leadership to act like adults and come to the table, and I mean everyone.
In the hopes that the optimism of the New Year will present an opportunity to break through some old grudges and stubborn personality conflicts, on January 2nd, I am going to call for unity from Mount Vernon’s elected leaders asking for dialogue and mostly demanding compromise. These ideas are supposed to define the role of elected officials and yet, somehow they are completely absent from our local politics. The people of Mount Vernon are entitled to nothing less than unity, dialogue and compromise.
I am not above the fray. The City Council will need to act as a cohesive group and provide the legislative leadership Mount Vernon needs. It will need to be a strong steward of the financial ship, but it will also need to recognize that the Mayor plays an important part in defining priorities, too. I will call upon my fellow members of the Council to come to the new session with a renewed spirit of open-mindedness and commitment to this City’s needs. The Council is the backstop of Mount Vernon’s government, and it needs to embrace both its responsibilities and its limitations.
To the Mayor, on January 2nd, I will be calling on you to engage and to help build unity in Mount Vernon with the Council and the Comptroller. Many of the problems we are facing linger far too long simply because we are acting in our own silos. The Mayor needs to do a better job of bringing the various parts of the government together around his vision. Even if it means he is not going to get every thing he wants all at once. He needs to demonstrate executive leadership and identify real priorities, and that begins with consensus building and engagement. He needs to come to the Council’s work sessions and roll up his sleeves. He needs to make his Commissioners available to answer questions. Most importantly, he needs to be open to hearing things he might not want to hear. If he comes to the Council ready to work and ready to listen, the Council will meet him halfway, with professionalism and courtesy. I will promise him that.
I will also call on the Comptroller to be part of the solution by openly and transparently identifying her challenges – whether internal or external to the government. We need a strong and responsible fiscal watchdog, to be sure. But, the business of government needs to be done too. That means paying bills to vendors who supply the City with goods and services. That means articulating clearly her requirements for invoices and work orders. Right now we’re just facing chaos and inaction. If internal systems need to be fixed, then let’s fix them. Let’s get people paid. The consequence for the City of Mount Vernon if this trend continues is bankruptcy. Nobody wants that, the Council, Mayor or the Comptroller. Let’s identify the problems and solve the problems. We need to stop admiring the problems, blaming each other in the media and talking about how difficult they might be. Let’s just get things done!
It will not be productive to use our time together trying to explain how we got into this mess. We need to use the time to prioritize and solve problems. We need to pull together and do the people’s business. The key to that is unity. Before Election Day this year, I was asked to give a speech about that very topic for the Democratic Party. I will end this column with the beginning of that speech since it seems to be the same problems we face in Mount Vernon.
“From the outside looking in, the Democratic Party has looked like a political circus the last few years – and the only people looking to buy tickets are the local media. The internal political bickering seems to cast a dark shadow over our party, concealing who we truly are. The reality is, we are ONE BIG FAMILY; and – YES – like all families, we have our fair share of disagreements. However, no disagreement should ever be allowed to destroy a family because what we disagree on is never as important as what binds us together.”
Enjoy your holiday season. After that, let’s come together and get to work.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or any other, reach out to me at ADWCMV@gmail.com.