HAMILTON: It’s the Charter, Stupid!

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By: Ken Hamilton

Why should we believe that someone knows what’s best for us and they believe that they can deliver it through running our government?

We shouldn’t.

I just bought a new, much needed computer a few weeks ago. Because there are only two major operating systems for most home computers, it wasn’t necessary for me to ask the salesperson which programs it can run. Instead I asked him about clock speed, random access memory and storage capacities, and about price. If those parameters were right, then it would run any program that any software manufacturer makes, and I could then chose the programs that I wanted – most of which I already have. 

So then, the question is, why don’t we elect politicians like we chose computers? After all, we aren’t electing politicians to pave roads, mow grass, pour concrete sidewalks, collect our public utility bills and the likes; we elect them like we buy computers – based upon the parameters of their capacity to effectively and efficiently process the data that they need to make decisions, being able to mentally file the information that they need to form coherent policies and then being able to retrieve it and apply it correctly in a way that increases tax base without increasing the citizens taxes, and to do so at a reasonable price. It would be foolish to elect them based upon personal relationships such as they are an in-law, cousin, coach or of the same ethnicity as ourselves.

I think that anyone who seeks to operate our governments should first of all know how governments are supposed to run, know how they do run and know and understand the difference between the two to accomplish that efficient and effective operation of government. In short, they should know the city charter inside and out. And be able to modify it to fit what is needed to meet the higher expectations of the citizens whose lives they impact. The questions that we should be asking them, long before we ask them what they are going to do, is:

1)      have you read and understood the city charter?

2)      what in the charter have they done that works best for the citizens?

3)      Are we following the things that work well?

4)      What in the charter doesn’t work well and are we willing to change it?

If we don’t ask them those four things, then what is the point of asking them anything else at all? Because if they haven’t read and understood the charter then it is like trying to run Apple software on a MSDOS computer – or worse, and expecting any positive results at all.

Let’s take the example of once-city council candidate Chris Robins.  He was in a string of several interrogated candidates at the library during a city council forum, all of which were spewing what they would do if and when they got in.  I was the last person in the audience at the microphone. In knowing and understanding city government, I had only a statement for them all. I said that I had heard everything that each of them had said that you were going to do when you got in; and I told them that none of them will be able to do any of those things, because the city charter won’t let them!”

I have to credit Robins as the only candidate to come to me and, after getting counsel from another person in the audience who understood the charter, admitting that I had told the truth.

Again, this is no endorsement of any candidate for mayor or city council. While Democratic mayoral candidate Robert Restaino has experience in cobbling together two broken charters, the extent of his charter-based knowledge is simply a cobbled-together charter; but it is a starting point. His opponents, Democrats Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo and potentially City Councilman Ezra Scott – whom I am told may run for reelection to city council, both have experience in working within a discombobulated charter. Republican Glenn Choolokian may be in the same boat with the last two.

If we are to make a selection of which candidate in any of the races will best be able to govern, let’s look at them like computers and ask the question: which ones have the mental hardware that will be best at executing their prospective operating systems in order to run the software programs what will give the best outputs. That is the ultimate test in an ability to serve; and if we fail to assess their knowledge of the operating systems, then we are wholly responsible for their outcomes. But to do so, we citizens must know and understand the charters and systems ourselves.

Are you voters up to it?


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