Saturday, May 10, 2008

Response to CT Editorial

The CT recently published an editorial agreeing with Mayor Grace taking action to redistrict the fire department and close Station #2 prior to the completion of the independent audit that has been approved by Council. In support of its position, the CT claims "we don't think an auditor would disagree, so we have no problem with Grace acting now." They also take issue with my comments that Mayor Grace is spending too much time investigating the fire department instead of focusing on economic development, stating that "[c]hallenging and improving the Fire Department, and other city departments, is a fine use of the mayor's time." The CT further claims that I may need a "history lesson" as a "freshman Councilman" because issues with the Fire Department extend back into the 1990's.

By no means have I suggested that Mayor Grace should ignore the issues within the EFD. In fact, he should be actively participating in the management study and audit that have been approved by City Council. He has ideas for changes within one of his departments and he should implement those changes if he believes they are in the best interests of the City. However, although all of these changes are well within his power as the chief executive of the City, he came to Council for approval and ratification of these ideas. Council has not agreed to support these ideas and instead has approved an independent audit of the EFD so that we can better understand the impact of the proposed changes and work on a plan for the future needs of this City. In fact, Mike Lotko, Chairman of the Safety Committee, has tabled any further consideration of changes until after the audit is completed. As such, it is not only the “freshman councilman” who thinks the Mayor’s proposed actions are premature.

Mayor Grace is spending an inordinate amount of time on issues related to the EFD. This has also caused a great deal of dissension within his own administration, pitting departments against each other for limited funds and ultimately failing to solve the problems that have apparently existed since before the beginning of his administration. He is now in his third term in office, yet these problems have not been resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. Moreover, once the EFD supported his opponent in the last primary, he has renewed his efforts to publicize, criticize and keep the EFD as the primary target of his cuts, citing a 2015 plan that has never been finalized and ignoring the feedback provided by city residents who have taken the time to speak out at City Council meetings.

The EFD issues are being addressed by an independent audit, which will hopefully be developed as a truly objective review of our EFD manning, equipment and location needs. The results of such an audit can be incorporated into a master plan for the City for years to come, as it is almost certain that we will not have the funds to implement the suggestions that will result. However, the Mayor chooses to proceed with significant changes to the EFD without the benefit of the results of that audit. If he is now certain that he knows what is best for the EFD, there should be no need to spend our scarce funds on a management audit and he should be prepared to accept the consequences of his actions.

There is a common theme in all of our recent Council meetings, during which we have discussed the need to repair more streets throughout the City and increase manning levels in both the Police and Fire Departments. This common theme is that we simply do not have enough money to do what we would like to do to provide acceptable levels of service to this community. Instead, we have streets that are given the lowest possible ranking by the Engineering department, yet we do not allocate monies to pave them. We have downtown business owners calling out for a police presence downtown and there is a need to increase the presence and manning levels of the EPD both downtown and throughout the City. There is an imminent need to hire more firefighters due to potential losses of seven to retirement within the next year just to keep the existing manning levels and there is serious consideration given to the need to increase the manning levels.

How do we get more money for these needs? One of the ways is to make sure they are a priority in the budget and shift monies from other areas to fund these items. The administration tells us, however, that we cannot shift additional monies for these items because other departments would suffer. We could propose some type of income tax increase. This would be wildly unpopular, based on the results of the rejected renewal this spring. Regardless of how the voters read the ballot language, it certainly demonstrated that our residents are not willing to support a new income tax. The other way to get more money is by attracting new businesses to the City and by helping existing businesses grow.

Mayor Grace needs to refocus on the biggest issue facing this City—the loss of revenues. Recent history reveals that last year alone the City lost $700,000 of income tax revenues. We have since hired Mr. Brackenhoff to be the Economic Development Director but have yet to receive any type of progress report, goals, initiatives or description of prospects for improving the income tax revenues in Elyria. Job creation and retention should be the primary focus of the administration and the Mayor is the City’s ambassador. He should take a leading role in bringing new jobs to the City and in retaining the companies that are still present. He should be actively seeking to attract new companies by inviting them into our community. He should be personally meeting with current businesses to find out how the City can help them grow. Instead, he is spending an inordinate amount of time internally fighting with one of his own departments, generating negative publicity and fostering an environment where departments criticize each other and fail to work together for the greater good of the City. History tells us that it is time to change our focus for the greater good of the City rather than spending an inordinate amount of time on the issues facing one department, particularly when the proposed audit has yet to be conducted.

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