City Council agreed this morning to May 19th for a special election to replace outgoing City Auditor Gary Blackmer, and thanks to behind-the-scenes work by City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, the discussion was remarkably relaxed and uncontentious.
Mayor Sam Adams kicked things off by asking Blackmer why he was leaving.
"Is it Dan [Saltzman]? It's Dan, isn't it...Randy [Leonard]'s out of the room...it's Randy, right?" he joked.
When Leonard returned from a bathroom break, Adams continued with the joke: "I'm pleased to hear that Randy Leonard chased you out of office," he said.
"It was the result of a rather painful back room session," Blackmer said.
"In which I was getting the pain, obviously," Leonard shot back.
Joking aside, the subject of voter-owned elections (VOE) is potentially divisive for city council, even though it's designed to "keep corporate money out of politics," (why should that be contentious? oh...yeah...I get it...) and is likely to succeed when the idea goes before voters in 2010.
City Commissioner Randy Leonard has been an outspoken opponent of the concept, ever since it came along. City Commissioner Nick Fish, meanwhile, was philosophically opposed to instituting a VOE system before it went to the voters.
But while Fish and Leonard could easily have taken the opportunity this morning to squabble over the VOE concept, it seems that behind-the-scenes negotiations by newly elected VOE commissioner Fritz have been sufficient to placate the pair, for the time being. More after the jump, including an ill-conceived illustration of Gary Blackmer on the theme of Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe...go on...you know you wanna click through...
One compromise Fritz appears to have made with the nay-sayers is cutting the amount of VOE candidate funding for the upcoming election from $150,000 per candidate to $50,000 each (Blogtown reported on this on Monday). As Leonard said this morning: "$150,000 may not seem like a lot of money, but it is still a lot of money." (So is $100,000, Randy, when you're potentially ready to lease a city building worth that much in rent to the Rose Festival organizers for $1 a year...but that's another story).
It's not clear who suggested the $50,000 figure—Fritz declined to tell the Mercury, when asked, directly, after the council session. But if cutting the public cost of an auditor's candidacy by $100,000 was what it took for Fritz to get council to agree to run another VOE without a lot of hubbub, then she's done a great job negotiating consensus, behind the scenes, in her first two weeks of office. Council will vote to agree on the $50,000 amount next week.
The job of city auditor has a huge impact, even though very few people know what Blackmer actually does, most of the day—measure the performance of city government, and suggest how it could be improved. Much of the time, this means cutting through the rhetorical bullshit of city government to make harsh recommendations, rather like Gordon Ramsay, telling a restaurant owner/general manager to "shut the f__k up" in an episode of Hell's Kitchen.
For example, back in 2007, Blackmer audited the cops' ability to follow up on sexual assualt cases, and produced a report that forced the cops to take a new approach. Last year, he said the city's feeeelgood Office of Neighborhood Involvement needed better defined goals and stricter performance measures. Oh, snap!
Er. Yes. Back to VOE. Perhaps the greatest irony to all this is that Blackmer actually ran unopposed in his last two races.
"I'm embarrassed to say that I actually ran unopposed," Blackmer said, this morning. "So a lot of times, my campaign funds were $600."
"How about we double that?" Leonard joked, suggesting VOE money of $1200 for upcoming candidates.
"Don't go there," said Fritz.
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