Less than a month into office, Falls Church City Mayor Nader Baroukh ordered the city public information office to fact-check a critical Falls Church News-Press article which he felt was inaccurate.
Less than a month into office, Falls Church City Mayor Nader Baroukh ordered the city public information office to fact-check a critical Falls Church News-Press article which he felt was inaccurate. The city employees did as requested; reporting back to the mayor the article was factually accurate and forcing him to back down from his allegations against the local newspaper.
While city communications staff routinely monitors press about the city and provides information on factual errors, the order from the mayor was unusual in that he, not the public information professionals or the city manager, instigated the order to city staff after expressing disagreement with the content of the news article.
The fact-checking preceded, and no doubt contributed to, the mayor’s subsequent decision not to offer either his personal or his official congratulations to the News-Press on the celebration of its 1,000th edition last week.
The incident also raised eyebrows among city watchdogs that closely monitor how the city council, city manager and city staff interact with each other and the general public. That relationship is critical to the business of the city. In this instance, the watch dogs have a point.
Falls Church is fundamentally architected as a city manager-style local government. The city charter makes the city manager, not the mayor, the chief executive officer of the city (section 5.01 states “….There shall be a city manager who shall be the executive officer of the city…”). With the exception, then, of a few specific city employees, all of city staff, including the public information staff, report to the city manager. The city council, by comparison, has a narrowly proscribed role in local government.
Further, the city charter contains a number of strict provisions which are designed to protect the basic architecture of our city from political interference and over-reaching from the city council. Section 5.03 states with some specificity the limited way city council is to interact with city staff: “… Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with the administrative services solely through the city manager, and neither the council nor any member thereof shall give orders either publicly or privately to any subordinate of the city manager…”
As a new city council finds its stride, it would do well to reset its campaign rhetoric and make certain personal agendas align with the rules which actually govern our city. Falls Church has had a history of ham-fisted politics from city council members who are all too willing to create and then step into vacuums in city government. Council micro-managing from the dais because they, mistakenly, believe they are the executive officers of the city and that city staff work for them has always led to disastrous results in our community. Always.
There is plenty of substantive work to be done in the city. Ordering city staff to do the dirty political work of individual council members is horribly bad politics in our community and distracts from what city voters elected them to do.
Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.