Government never stops.
Even when the president takes the mantle of advocating a shutdown over funding for a border wall, the essential services of government keep going. The business of meeting local and state responsibilities is also never ending.
What’s the point?
City councils should not delay budget approvals as a political tactic to give newly elected, but not yet seated, city officials to get involved.
Consider the hand-off of executive powers, most visible in the regular transition at four or eight years from one president of the United States to the next. Even though the choice of who will serve in that capacity happens in November, nobody suggests the federal government should take a hiatus between Election Day and Jan. 20, when the new president is officially sworn into office.
The way we govern ourselves is, and must be, continuous. So even in the midst of political changes, the work of government goes on. That's true even if a city council or quorum court here in Arkansas will see a significant number of its membership change once the new year comes.
But in small-town (but growing) Lowell, it seems a different approach to government is taking hold. The apparently sheepish City Council has punted its $13.2 million annual budget into next year amid major turnover in the city's political offices. Once January rolls around, the town will get a new mayor who beat the incumbent. Two members of the City Council defeated incumbents. So Council Member Eric Schein suggested a delay of the annual budget until January, so Mayor-elect Chris Moore and the two new City Council members can have a say in the budget.
Others pointed out Schein wasn't at budget discussions other members attended earlier. Others noted the new mayor and council members did attend and were allowed t participate.
Clearly, there's some disfunction happening in Lowell.
Not a lot of regular folks make it a habit of getting involved in city budgets, but they're important documents that create a blueprint -- parameters, really -- for spending. They are not, however, written in stone.
That's why it was surprising to see the City Council agree to delay consideration of a budget. Despite political changes, the city needs to function, and it does that best with a budget in place. Most governments traditionally set their budgets for the following year before the current year comes to an end. It provides some stability and predictability, which are good things.
Not so, Lowell.
In Lowell, that reasonable respect for tradition is apparently being tossed aside.
Government is built to march on even amid transitions of the people at the helm take place. Lowell is, indeed, in the midst of a significant change in leadership and, it seems, direction. But this notion that normal government functioning should be placed on hold in the wake of an election is inefficient and unnecessary.
New blood in government? It's not the first time and it won't be the last. But city staff, particularly, and the current city leadership has put considerable work into developing a budget to move the city into the next year smoothly and predictably. City councils ought to respect the incumbent mayor and the city staff enough to adopt a budget and resist turning their backs on the work that has already gone into preparing for the next year.
But what if the incoming city leaders have a different idea of where the city ought to put its priorities? That's entirely within reason, but the 24/7/365 nature of government should not be frozen to give the new members time to catch up. Budgets can be amended. Indeed, they are all the time. Pushing a budget into the next year serves no useful purpose and leaves a city in a form of suspended animation in which it's not designed to function.
So, Lowell should listen to public feedback and its professional staff, then pass a budget. Then, when the new year arrives and new people in political leadership take their seats, let them engage in a public discussion about their priorities and the changes they propose for that year.
This isn't a nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court that needs to be thwarted until the next election can happen. It's a budget, which isn't written in stone. When newly elected people have taken office, they can wield their power. Until then, the sitting City Council should do its job.
Commentary on 12/14/2018
Print Headline: Keep the reins