Saturday, October 6, 2007

Mayor: A Living Wage Job In A Fishbowl

Politics is a profession; a serious, complicated and, in its true sense, a noble one.
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower

The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
-- Winston Churchill

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage. -- H. L. Mencken

Ninety eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hardworking, honest Americans.
It's the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity.
But then, we elected them. -- Lily Tomlin

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. -- James Madison

"Popular adolescents look like leaders.
But in reality they are tracking peer opinion.
They do the same thing politicians do in tracking opinion polls.
They are very much like politicians."

-- Joseph P. Allen - Psychology Professor, University of Virginia

It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
-- Winston Churchill 

When I look back on all these worries, I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which had never happened.
-- Winston Churchill
Every Municipality requires some form of leadership.
Bellingham's Charter, adopted 35 years ago, specifies an elected Mayor to fulfill that function.

Mayor is a big job!
It entails holding much power and influence, but also much responsibility.
By definition, the job is relentlessly demanding.
It has the potential to be exhilarating, as successes are enjoyed by the community.
But, it can also be debilitating when things don't go so well.

There are diverse groups to be continuously dealt with fairly and reasonably satisfied.
There are a multiplicity of goals to be sought, even though some compete directly with others.
How to deal with and effectively resolve issues is not an exact science.
At best, a Mayor will seek to keep important things simmering, but not boiling over!
That requires a set of skills that many folks don't have, and even if they do, don't wish to go to the trouble of becoming Mayor.

It's not a job everyone wants, including me.

But, the purpose of this blog is to revisit some of our history since Mayor Mark resigned, effective November 1, 2006.

I did not always agree with Mark, but I did respect his talent, courage and vision for our City's future.
No fair-minded person can deny Mark possessed those qualities.
In addition, he had the ability to pick really good staff, many of whom still work for the City in responsible jobs.
I hope they stay around, regardless of who our new elected mayor will be.

But, Mark did reach his limit in the job of Mayor and has moved on, I hope happily.
I wish him well.

Below, I've reprinted his resignation announcement, followed by a few comments of my own.
Message from the Mayor

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Dear fellow employees,

I have frequently written to you about a variety of subjects. Whether it be issues ‘in the news’, changes in policy, celebration of successes or a word of thanks, it has been my hope that you knew that I cared about your awareness of issues the city faces and to remind you that it is through your good work that we achieve our success.

Today I write to you with information that affects the city but is not about the city.

I will be resigning as Mayor of Bellingham effective Nov 1, 2006. On that date I will start in my new position as manager of the Northwest Clean Air Agency (NWCAA), a regional organization that includes Whatcom, Skagit and Island Counties.

I have had a connection with NWCAA for many, many years. The mission of the agency is one I am passionate about and when the current manager announced his intention to retire, I thought long and carefully about whether to apply for the vacant position. The new job will involve a cut in pay, nonetheless I eagerly look forward to this different chapter in life.

This is my 20th year as a local elected official. While a career in public service has been of great satisfaction and joy, it had never been my intention to spend my entire adulthood in elective office. I am pleased that I will continue in service to the citizens of our community, just in a different capacity.

The primary reason that I am able to take this step is because of the extraordinary talent and commitment to service of the City of Bellingham department heads, managers and employees. Ours is not a perfect organization, but I believe that it is in an extraordinarily strong position at this time. Together, over these last nearly eleven years, we have accomplished so very much. I am proud of my affiliation with the City of Bellingham and with you. I know you will continue to do great things.

In my years as Mayor, I have made many wonderful friends among you, my fellow employees. I look forward to maintaining these friendships, with the added benefit that I will not always be ‘talking shop’ when they are trying to relax!

In closing, let me thank you all for the energy, commitment and spirit you bring to your work. I will be forever grateful for the honor of having been your fellow public servant.


Mayor Mark

PS. The vacancy created by my departure will be filled by a majority vote of the City Council. The Council can fill the vacancy from among council members or any Bellingham citizen that meets the eligibility requirements of the city charter. The voters will select the mayor at the general election in November 2007.
I believe Mark's reason for resigning was a good one, the prospect of a responsible job that wasn't a pressure cooker.

Unspoken, were other probable reasons:
• His health
• A reduced level of enjoyment, due to an atmosphere of growing distrust and controversy
• His family
• His accurate reading of political 'tea leaves', particualy after the contentious 2003 election

[Note, here I suspect Mark came to know that he would be challenged by one of his former strong supporters, now a candidate for Mayor]
But, Mark's announcement still came as quite a shock to most folks, even though it was openly welcomed by some.
It also came at a time I was away, hiking in the Canadian Rockies.
That vacation was particularly enjoyable because it occured right after I had made a similar decision.
I had decided to resign myself at the end of 2006, but announce it early so that the Council would have time to appoint a replacement for 1 year.
Mark beat me to it!

Boy, I was mad at the time!
Mark's resigning made me reconsider my own plans.
Under those circumstances, I thought it would have been irresponsible for me to walk away from the challenges that were facing the City at that time.
Of course, some may not have liked me quitting before my elected term was over, either.
Others may have felt differently.
Anyway, sense prevailed and I stayed.
And now, I'm glad I did decide to finish my term.
Another time, I might extend this reflection.
But this is enough for now.