Monday, July 07, 2008

Behind the City Council Scenes

A not-so-robust Standard-Examiner glimpse upon the the inner workings of the Ogden City Council

Just to get the discussion rolling this morning, we'll put the focus on this politically soothing Scott Schwebke story appearing in the Standard-Examiner, under the headline, "Behind the scenes, behind the city council." The article touts the performance of our city council staff; and for our money could have easily been subtitled "Ode to Council Director Bill Cook." We'll resist the temptation to label this story a "puff piece;" but we will nevertheless suggest that this story represents another instance where the sometimes uninquisitive Scott Schwebe failed to ask obvious follow-up questions, thereby missing a golden opportunity to produce a journalistic work which might otherwise have been truly informative for the lumpencitizens of Emerald City. We'll provide a few examples (and some suggested follow-up questions,) starting with this excerpt from this morning's story:

OGDEN — City council offices at the end of a terrazzo-tiled hallway on the third floor of the Municipal Building are deceptively quiet.
It’s there, out of the public spotlight, that the council’s staff screens proposed policies, initiatives and ordinances that may ultimately affect Ogden residents.
“There are always a million things happening,” said Bill Cook, the city council’s executive director.
“There are no calm moments.”
Nothing gets by Cook or his policy analysts, Alan Franke and Sue Zampedri.
Suggested follow-up questions:

• What about the Bootjack stealth transaction, wherein the Council/RDA Board approved the sale of a critical downtown property to Godfrey crony Chris Peterson, notwithstanding the administration's wilful refusal to identify the buyer in the transaction?
• What about the St. Anne's Shelter matter, in which the council approved a legislative request for a $1 million dollar grant to move the St. Anne's Center, based on the false assurance of administration staff that The St. Anne's Board had agreed to embark upon such a move?
• How about the Shupe-Williams property sale resolution, wherein the Council approved the sale of an important downtown property to a purported buyer who had absolutely no intention of buying it?
In each of these instances the council suffered public embarrassment due to a failure to do its due diligence -- due diligence which was the responsibility of council staff. These are instances, we believe, where important details most certainly "got by" Cook and his policy analysts. We accordingly believe that these are questions a truly diligent reporter would have asked.

And then this morning's story provides this delightful gem: "The city council’s budget for fiscal 2009 is $845,725, compared with $482,525 budgeted for the mayor’s office." And the graphic accompanying the story contains a misleading numeric reference, comparing the council's staff of five, with the Mayor's staff of three.

Gentle reader Dan S. has of course already latched onto this misleading comparison in his comment in a lower thread:

There's a highly misleading front-page article in today's S-E, comparing the Ogden City Couincil staff and budget to those of the mayor's office. Nowhere does the article point out that the city's 700 other employees also report to the mayor. How many times have the mayor's department heads given the council incorrect information, or withheld information, forcing the council and its staff to do their own research? The mayor has his own personal legal office, planning staff, accountants, map makers, business liasons, and even police statisticians.
I was also struck by this sentence from near the end of the article: "Cook also encourages council members to develop initiatives so the city isn't constantly reacting to proposals from the city's administration." In fact the system is set up to make it almost impossible for a council member to introduce a piece of legislation. Individual council members have no staff support; the council staff don't want to work on anything until after the whole council is behind it; and again, everyone else reports to the mayor.
We believe Mr. Schwebke ought to have asked something about the actual Council/Mayor staffing discrepancy.

And we loved the part where Boss Godfrey says, with a completely straight face (and after 8-1/2 years of "service" in the Mayor's office,) that he has absolutely no idea what the city council staff does.

This called for an appropriate follow-up question we think, such as: "Well, Mr. Mayor, what exactly have you've learned about Ogden City government these past 8-1/2 years?"

We'll also note in closing, that we're not altogether displeased with our council staff's performance. We merely believe there's room for improvement in the area of due diligence. As the article notes, they're well-liked and work very hard. And Bill Cook is right: The council has done especially well of late, with its own self-motivated initiatives, such as the Water Horizons project.

As for this morning's article, we believe Schwebke has produced far better work.

And what say our gentle readers about all this?


Curmudgeon said...


Glad you highlighted this statement from Mayor Godfrey:

"We're not exactly sure what all of the council staff does, so it would be inappropriate for us to comment on their performance."

He really is not very good at public administration. It would have been perfectly appropriate for him to decline commenting on other people's staff, period. But no, he had to add that he [or rather "we" --- our Mayor has unfortunately become addicted to the "Imperial we" of late] doesn't know what they do. This is both highly improbable as you note [especially since he goes on to talk about how often his people meet with Council staff, and how hard his people try to maintain good relations with them] and demeaning to the Council staff [Implication: "oh, they're not very important. I don't even know what a lot of them do."]

If there is a ham-fisted way to make a simple statement in public, Our Mayor will find it.

Monotreme said...

If Mayor Godfrey isn't a small-minded, vindictive little jerk, he certainly did a damn fine imitation of one in his quoted email.

His quote is also at odds with his repeated assertions, during the campaign last year, that there was "no communication problem" between himself and the council.

I would submit that not knowing what five people on the council staff do is a whopping big "communication problem". Either he was lying then, or he's lying now.

OgdenLover said...

Mono -

"Either he was lying then, or he's lying now."
You suggest that there is actually a situation in which Godfrey isn't lying? Shirley, you jest.

Monotreme said...

I am serious, and don't call me 'Shirley'.

althepal said...


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