Local Commentary

The Little City Weed

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Falls Church City has too many city council members. There is a case to be made for reducing the number of members of city council from seven to five, and aligning those members with ward voting, as a way to bring about needed reform in the middle management layer of our local government.

 

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Falls Church City has too many city council members. There is a case to be made for reducing the number of members of city council from seven to five, and aligning those members with ward voting, as a way to bring about needed reform in the middle management layer of our local government.

If Falls Church were a business, it would be characterized as a boutique company with fundamentally sound financials, and considerable brand loyalty, but with a systemically dysfunctional management team.

Sixty years of supporting seven at-large city council members in the smallest independent city in the country has borne an outdated 1950s political culture characterized by entrenched processes, out of scale personal intrigue, narrow fiefdoms, and horrific management habits. Like a business with too many vice presidents, a city government with too many city council members creates a counterproductive layer of management. Counterproductive managers meddle in operational affairs outside of their responsibilities creating havoc among frontline workers who have to respond to contradictory demands from too many people with cheap management titles. The same managers easily form cliques, bestowing favor and punishment based on relationships rather than on the goals of the organization or on measureable metrics.

An organization which tolerates bloated management invites a hyper-political culture of inefficiency which saps the strength of leaders and producers. The organization sets itself on a course of having to follow a chaotic command structure which serves itself, or arcane procedure, rather than being a lattice-style team of professional managers who dedicate themselves to the higher objectives and risk priorities of the organization.

Our city council members meddle in the day-to-day affairs of professional city management. They make voluminous requests for data which they hoard away for narrow purposes. They micro-manage the most innocuous affairs of citizen commissions and planning groups. A handful of council members ganged up together to go around their colleagues and pre-negotiate development deals in a “stealth council” commission. Council members with different views do not even talk to each other in public, much less socialize privately. Mayor Baroukh has never called one of the council members he disagrees with – and why would he? He dislikes her, does not value her experience, and with the ability to work with other council members he can simply ignore her. In the midst of the worst recession in the history of the city, Vice Mayor Snyder missed almost sixty percent of our council meetings – an attendance record which would have had him canned in any high performing organization.

Reducing our council members to five, the same number as represent much larger Arlington, would have immediate positive impacts.

Cost associated with council salaries and elections would drop. Council members would be forced to work more collaboratively. The significance of being on council would increase. The role of the city manager would crystallize and have more operational significance. The opportunity for political mischief and unproductive intrigue would decrease. Poor management habits would be less tolerated.

Local government reformer weed. You know you want to believe.

 


Michael Gardner is a quixotic citizen and founder of the Blueweeds community blog.