Maintaining excellence is job one
I enjoy reading the Observer blogs from time to time. I find them to be entertaining, informative and on occasion challenging. In August, Bob Rosenbaum posted one titled "Before the city council elections, let’s define ‘excellent.’" His concern relates to what makes an "excellent" government.
In University Heights, government includes not only city council and the mayor, but also residents and our vision for the city. Therefore, it is important to define what we mean by excellent government before we can question candidates on their ability to achieve it. Four council seats are up for election in University Heights this November, and there may be anywhere from 8 to 11 candidates vying for those seats.
We have a representative form of government, which means that we elect our councilmen and women to represent us (and our views) when decisions are made. To do so, those representatives need to stay in tune with us. How often have you heard from your councilman or councilwoman after they were elected? How often have they solicited your opinion on major issues that confront our community?
Too often the answer to those questions is "Not once have I heard from them," and "No, they have never held a meeting to find out what I think." That situation can lead to a mindset in which elected officials begin to believe that they already have the answers. You, the constituent they represent, is then just told how things will be. Rosenbaum’s blog post gives us an idea of what kind of responses we can expect from those who have crossed that line. Elections, therefore, are important if we want representatives who share our vision for the city.
I’ve had opportunities to speak with many UH residents, and I am always impressed at how serious they are about the city and the services they want. They also are realistic and understand that the services we want, and the quality of life we expect, come with a price. What we tend to forget, though, is that a portion of our funding comes from the state and federal levels of governmenl.
The deficit reduction work being done in Washington will result in less funding for both states and cities. As state funding is reduced, there will be additional cuts by the state to our cities, which puts pressure on maintaining our vision with less funding.
It certainly sounds good when a politician promises lower taxes. In fact, Ohio tax rates have been cut. As state revenue decreased, cuts were made across the board. This led to the loss of state funding to cities and to our school districts. Unfortunately, those cuts far exceed the total of the small tax savings that each of us received from the state. The only way for a city and a school district to make up those losses to their budgets is either to cut services or to ask residents for more funds to maintain them.
Rosenbaum is right. We really need to think about our priorities and, as the campaign begins, we need to ask the candidates meaningful questions. Candidates who just say they are going to cut our taxes need to articulate exactly which services will have to change, and to what level they must be reduced.
We also need to be mindful of what hasn’t been said by those who currently sit on council. For example, when the grant for the new pump fire truck came before council, both councilmen running for reelection noted that they were hesitant to accept the grant. However, they never made it clear just why they were hesitant.
The grant saved UH taxpayers $275,000 and enabled the city to replace a fire truck that had to be replaced. Did they hesitate because maintaining a fire department was a city service they wanted to consolidate with another city? Or did they hesitate because they felt we really didn’t need a new pump truck? These are the types of questions we need to ask to learn if their views truly coincide with ours.
Winifred Weizer is a former councilwoman and longtme resident of University Heights. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.