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Rewriting the City Charter: Towards fixing our broken government

BRO Submission By Matthew Ricchiazzi:
I crave good government.  I yearn for competent elected officials.  I hope that the devastating leadership void in our region that has left our governmental apparatus impotent, unwieldy, and poorly configured will cease sooner rather than later.
Our government–the City of Buffalo–has been an ineffectual and complacent failure for at least the last three decades.  Enough is enough, and few would argue that an overhaul is long overdue.  But like every other progressive effort that this City undergoes, the vision will only come from the bottom up.

Perhaps I’m the only one who finds a topic like “municipal restructuring” worthy of conversation, but I knew that the readers of BRO would have some valuable insight and robust opinion.
I’m tired of a City government that exacerbates rather than solves problems.  I’m sick of elected leaders who don’t understand where we’re going, how to get us there–and as a result make horrible decisions, the consequences of which the entire region endures.
This is a starting point for discussion, and I hope that it might evolve into valuable guidance to a Common Council, from whom we’re all asking for change:
A.   Downsize the Common Council, centralize staff, and eliminate all non-Council elected offices
Downsize the Council.  It is hard enough to find a large enough pool of qualified Council candidates willing to run for office with nine seats.  With fewer seats, we might be able to ease the narrow and parochial thinking (or with at-large seats, but that seems a step too controversial).  Five seats seems ideal.  Seven seats seems doable.
Centralize Staff.  Only with centralized staff, under the direction of a Council Chairman will we be able to stop the political infighting and start cooperatively speaking with one voice.  Legislative affairs, lobbying, and communications should be centralized under the control of the Council Chairman’s office.
Eliminate non-Council elected positions.  Over the last several decades, the Mayor’s Office has been more detrimental than helpful to our City.  It’s too hard to get incompetent machine bosses and their patronage systems out of office, even under the most corrupt of circumstances.
B.   Restructure and professionalize core governance, policy and decision making functions 
Professionalize core functions.  We need to transform the civil service bureaucracy into a professional organization.  Rewarding time of tenure is obsolete.  Instead, we’ll reward skill sets, credentials, and an ability to innovate.  We need leaders, not just unthinking cogs in our governmental machinations.
Insolate from politics.  I shouldn’t have to crave for good government–it should be a given.  We need to reduce the political influences.  Eliminating the Mayor’s office will help.  A strong Council that has the ability to hire or fire strong Commissioners would be advantageous.
C.   Privatize labor-intensive service delivery functions, introduce participatory oversight systems
Privatize labor intensive service delivery.  The City’s current cost structure (existing City Charter and other regulations, labor costs, etc) of service delivery is very high.  I want to provide services at the lowest cost possible, which requires greater operational flexibility in labor contracts and the City Charter.  Let’s privatize labor intensive service delivery functions to private entities that do not have the same contractual obligations, and can better improve efficiencies through the development and application of automation technologies, more flexible organizational structure, and the market mechanism controlling costs.
D.   Capitalize public-private venture partnerships to cultivate a green economy
Public-private venture partnerships.  A venture capital fund has the ability to aggressive capitalize start up firms in emerging high-growth industries.  We have an enormous opportunity to cultivate entire industries, like energy production and energy efficiency.

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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