The City of Covington’s Mayor and Board of Aldermen is, probably to the delight of no one except us, engaged in a political tug-of-war over the mayor’s and board’s role in government, how the city’s government should best be designed to serve the public and what the fundamental role of a city’s government is.
While discussion held last week points to a rift between Mayor David Gordon’s idea of a strong executive form of city government versus what appears to be the board’s preference for a weak executive form of government, something wonderful is going on here. The City of Covington is hashing out, on a micro-scale, the argument between Federalists and Anti-Federalists that have been arguing about Democracy since the First Constitutional Convention of 1787.
The discussion stems from the proposal — by the mayor with the input of counsel — for a new municipal code. The proposed new code came from the mayor’s office, with input from counsel, and the board had it listed as an agenda item, but discussion, initiated by Alderman Tommy Black, showed the board recoiling from the proposal and, going a step further, actually considering limiting the mayor’s power more than it is now.
All members of the board were very respectful toward Mayor Gordon in the discussion — who was absent from the meeting — saying time and time again something along the lines of, “This isn’t about David Gordon, but about the future.” By removing personality and focusing on the future, the board is doing right by its citizens. It’s not about this mayor or this board. It’s about establishing a lasting model that will serve future generations of Covington’s citizens.
We’d like to applaud them for being forward-thinking and considerate about what the future ramifications of their actions could be.
To be clear, we side with neither the mayor nor the board on the specific idea of what kind of structure should be in place. Certainly the strong executive format has its strengths and weaknesses as does the weak executive format. What we do support is dialogue. Discussion. Being thorough. And the board was nothing if not that.
Specifically, what struck us as good:
• The board was determined to read, carefully, every word of the proposal before passing it. Mr. Black was clear that doing things hastily after a five-year process of drafting the new rules wasn’t going to fly.
• The board members got into the weeds on what kind of government they want, how it should be structured and explored in delightful detail the idea of checks and balances, specifically related to city employees, department heads and the appeals process when employee discipline occurs.
• They discussed the mayoral position having a vote as a form of influence in committee business.
• They talked about having a greater role in approving the city’s budget.
• They indicated they wanted to maintain their input regarding the mayor’s appointments to city committees or boards.
Let’s not get overly dramatic here. We were not witnessing our country’s founders drafting the Constitution of the United States, but we did see a thoughtful, introspective and thorough city board interested in doing the right thing for its citizens. It was a throwback to the idea of being a public servant, a notion some have argued died with the Greatest Generation — those wonderful parents of the Baby Boomers.
We applaud the Covington Board of Mayor and Aldermen for asking the right questions and for taking their jobs seriously.
Discussion is a good thing. Openness about that discussion is even better. We hope other boards will learn from this excellent example of contemplative and open government exploring its core role.