Scott Sanders has hit the ground running. While we may not always agree politically, it is worth noting that he is doing things the right way so far. Covering the city has had us out and about attending commissions and other public meetings. We are used to seeing certain Aldermen at most of these events and glad to add Alderman Sanders to that list. I even noted that Alderman Sanders was in the Economic Development office meeting with City Staff while I was meeting with staff to discuss the MPO list.
In discussion about the changing structure for the city’s billing agreement with the law firm that provides legal counsel to the city it was clear that Mr. Sanders had done his homework. He had questions about the impact of the process and went to the City Administrator to address those one on one. As a result, he spoke confidently and cast a vote reflecting what he believes is in the best interest of the citizens of Germantown. The aldermen are encouraged to do this. While the agenda packets are quite detailed it is difficult to anticipate every question that may come up given the diverse personal and professional backgrounds of the Board.
The work of governing is done in the lead up to meetings, not in the debate from the podium. We wholeheartedly believe in the value of healthy public debate. However, it is important to be prepared for those meetings. Generally, policy doesn’t just show up on an agenda a few days before a BMA meeting. Most items on the agenda have been in the works for some time and have moved through one or more of the commissions prior to being voted on in the BMA. Some are even called out in the annual budget approved at the beginning of the year. That is why staying involved is important.
In some cases, citizen volunteers and staff put hours, months and even years into developing proposals that get voted on in the BMA. Respect for those efforts means engaging early and addressing questions prior to votes. Good timely questions actually help shape policy, especially when they are part of the development process. That level of engagement should be present with all of our Aldermen.
Staff should certainly be ready to answer questions but aldermen should be engaged in the process early and often. The Executive Sessions are open to the public and held 30 minutes prior to the BMA meetings. If you ever sit in one of these Executive sessions, you are likely to hear Aldermen ask the same questions in both meetings. They do this so that the responses will make it on the recordings for citizens that only attend the BMA or watch online. At most meetings you will see department heads sitting in the audience ready to address questions from the Board. Staff works hard to makes sure the Aldermen can make well informed decisions.
5-0 votes shouldn’t happen all the time. They should happen most of the time and not because people are blindly agreeing. They should happen because our leaders are engaged and have had their concerns addressed earlier in the process and the result is something that reflects their input and what is best for our community.