Monday, December 3, 2012

Worcester Going the Timbuktu Way (Round Two)

Someone once said you can’t fight City Hall! To whoever said that I take off my hat (I do indeed wear a hat). Now that the City of Worcester Public Work Department won the day, Their Salisbury- Forest Streets expansion plan was put in place. Some of the residents’ objections were swept away like dust, and we ended up with a vision of the historic district that suited the Commissioner of Public work plans. I will not dwell on the matter, as the saying goes “why throw away good money after bad”. What I would like to address are a few learned on hand experiences in dealing with the public sector. As a Public Economics professor, I have taught, did research about the economic of the public sector. Our accumulated knowledge has given us a view of the activities of the public sector, mostly in the aggregate and not on individual basis. We build models about the role, activities and behavior of government, Federal, State and local; we test our models by injecting appropriate date, draw conclusions and offer advice as to the efficiency or lack of public sector provisions, the allocation of tax shares, and the role of the individual as a consumer and tax payers in the public economy. True we point out the various inefficiencies associated with public sector provisions, the sometimes unjust distribution of the tax burden, the perils of a growing public debt and the role of the individual, in a democratic society viz a viz his government. In the sphere of local government we have offered and tested the “Tibout model” or what has been referred to as “voting with one’s feet”—if you do not like the provision and tax allocation of your local government, you have recourse—pick up and leave. That may be easier said than done. Given the so many constraints that face the individual, and the relatively small weight of public sector involvement in the life and burse of the individual, picking up and leaving can only be accomplished in the relatively longer run. Of course they may be so strong that the cost of voting with one’s feet become the preferred option. As this blog is not intended as a thesis on the economics of the public sector, but rather use what we have learned and teach about the public economy to identify gaps in our presumed relation of “the individual” viz a viz his government learned by this Public Economics professor in one instant of interaction with representatives of the public sector. The case used is The City of Worcester Plan for the Salisbury- Forest Streets. In the previous blog, round one, I pointed out the implications of the choice of the form of local government for the citizens. The City of Worcester like few others has opted for the Council-Manager form of local government. Under this system the council members are elected by the voters’ citizens and their tenure is subject to voters’ approval. A Councilman can represent a district, or be elected at large. The Mayor is the Councilman elected at large who garners the highest number of votes. The Council appoints the Manager, and he reports to the Council. The Council has the legislative power whereas the Manager performs the day-to-day activities of running the City. Another form of local government is the Mayor-Council. In the other form of local government, the Mayor –Council, the Councilman, whether represents a specific district or elected at large is in tone with his constituents’ needs. This form of local government is perhaps the most responsive to voters as a councilor’s tenure depends on the voters’ approval. The City of Worcester form of government has undergone a few changes since its formation back in 1848 where its first Charter went into effect. The Charter established a Mayor Bicameral form of government. In 1947, the City approved a change whereby the form of government was replaced by the Council- Manager form. This was the structure from 1949 until the mid-1980’s when the Citizens of Worcester, seemingly unhappy with such representation sought to change it to a “more” representative form— the Mayer- Council form of government. Sadly, that did not pan out. Every community seems to sprout “cliques” of powerful men and women who have interest in shaping the affairs of their City. Worcester is no exception. Tired of the Council- Manager form of their local government, the citizens of Worcester mounted a campaign to replace it with the Mayer-Council form. In 1983 the City voters decided to change the City Charter. A Charter Commission was formed (guess what) chaired by Mr. Morgan, one of those powerful Worcester residents. As Chairman of the newly formed Charter Commission, he was instrumental in deflecting all efforts directed by some Charter Commission members to change the form of government to the Mayer- Council form in response of the citizens’ wishes. Powerful men and women seem to dominate the scene. Whether through the use of tacit or open persuasion, they rule the day. The Charter Commission under the stewardship of Mr. Morgan, and while fully aware of citizens dissatisfaction of the Council- Manager form pushed through his agenda and succeeded in overruling all objections to his favorite form of government—the Council- Manager form, thus succeeding in silencing dissent. A quarter of a century later we the citizens of Worcester (at least this Economist) are reflecting about what happened back in the 1980. Given our latest experience with the Salisbury- Forest Streets expansion plan, perhaps the time is ripe to effect a change in the form of local government for the City of Worcester. One May not succeed in fighting City Hall, but surely we the Citizens can Change it. Over the past few weeks, the news about the Civil War in Mali, the West African nation has reached our shores. As my first blog used Timbuktu, the great City of Mali as an example of a revival of a magnificent city and the efforts of its citizen to return their city to its earlier glory, I am saddened by these developments. The Civil war that is tearing up the fabric of a great city and inflicting death and destruction on a nation that faced a great deal of turmoil to secure a better living for its citizen and in promoting democracy and liberty. Being apprized with what the Citizens of Mali are facing, I am more than ever convinced that individual rights, just causes must be won, they cannot be left in the dust. Civil wars are quite prevalent in Sub-Saharan Africa. Their causes are varied, and the outcome is never certain. The Civil war in Mali has many roots and grievances abound. What role outside forces play and how far civil liberty will be ignored will be the subject of my next blog. One thing I need to say in closing: There should not be a price put on liberty. Complacency breads tyranny and tyranny is the death of liberty.

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