Thursday, January 20, 2011

Pontiac's emergency financial manager must communicate better

The Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, gave his state of the state address last night in Lansing, Michigan. As was expected, he touched on most of the broad issues that are important to the citizens of the state and its economy. Snyder promised to develop a system that will more effectively communicate how effective his actions are. He calls it a “dashboard” that will be on the state’s website.

One of the topics was that of emergency financial managers. They are installed in cities that are in financial trouble and have offered no plan to solve the problem. Snyder said that he wants to overhaul that laws that govern the managers. Pontiac is one of the cities in the state that is operating with a emergency financial manager right now.

For many reasons, usually because of a combination of politics and poor management, cities can get into financial trouble and run a deficient. Some cities are able to react to the problem with a tough plan that will bring them back from the brink. Others though, because of politics, are just not able to find a compromise between competing interests that will see them through.

That was the case with Pontiac. The current city manager, Michael Stampfler, has a resume that makes him very qualified to make financial decisions that will help the city get back on the road to recovery. But, he is not a good communicator and appears to not know how to work with political organizations. Just as Snyder has announced that he will develop a dashboard for the state, Stampfler needs to develop one for Pontiac.

There is no doubt that it is perhaps the toughest job on the planet. He has to dig deep into a budget that is out of whack, deal with people that are protecting their jobs and turf, make decisions that will make everyone unhappy and cut services that citizens have come to expect. Add to all of this the fact that he a non-elected boss that is placed there by an outside authority. Not a good mix.

But, Stampfler, is not forth coming with the reasoning for his actions. It is rumored that he shuts people out of meetings, make decisions with little announcements about why and doesn’t report to the people that count the most, the citizens of the City of Pontiac. When an elected official isn’t a good communicator many people complain. But when a non-elected official isn’t a good communicator, the entire community is left outside of the process.

Open government and decision making is an important principal in a republic. People in a community can’t make effective decisions about their representatives in government if they are not communicating with them about what decisions are being made and the reasoning behind the actions. This is even more important when someone from outside the community places someone with the authority of an emergency financial manager to temporarily make all the decisions. Stampfler, and his boss Governor Snyder, must be held accountable for their actions. The only way to do this is for both to communicate better with the citizens of Pontiac.


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