The Mayor's Desk
A fitting title for today's column might be "The Mayor's Mind."
In the past, I've written about what's on the mayor's desk or on the to do list or described a typical day or week. Today, I thought I would write about what goes through the mayor's mind when deciding to do one thing or another.
In this instance I want to share what went through my mind when I decided to leave the public hearing about a hotel overlay for 47 and 33 Commercial St. on Monday night.
But, first, I want to share a true story. Last weekend, I had occasion to be in Newburyport as a guest of the mayor. As we toured City Hall, I asked, "Mayor Holaday, why do you have a brand new flat screen TV mounted on the wall in your office?"
Mayor Holaday said, "Oh, this is where I have to watch City Council meetings from. The mayor is not allowed in council chambers when they are meeting. If they need me, they come and get me and escort me in, and when I have finished, they escort me out. So I wait in my office, watch the meeting on TV, and get caught up on my work."
We talked about the wisdom of this peculiar tradition. It demonstrates a clear separation between the executive and legislative functions of local government.
I can see the purpose it serves in a setting like Monday's public hearing. Rezoning is a legislative function — not executive. The Planning Board members and the city councilors are the audience that the testimony needs to reach. They are the decision-makers.
I believed strongly that the position of the administration needs to be made known, and so I addressed the decision-makers at the public hearing. I stayed and listened to about an hour's worth of the testimony. Also in attendance listening were four senior staff members of my administration. While I did not stay for the entire time, staffers did. And we have a recording of the proceedings.
Our job is to sort fact from fiction, sift through the myths and scare tactics, and zero in on the issues raised where the administration does have jurisdiction. For example, on the issue of a TIF for any hotel project that might result should the rezoning be approved, the administration came right out and said, "No TIF," based on what we heard.
In a public hearing like the one on Monday, when speakers turn to the administration and bellow at the mayor, it serves no purpose but to be disruptive.
I myself have made that mistake prior to becoming mayor. Someone tipped me off beforehand that one of the opponents had created what basically amounts to a Youtube.com political attack ad that showed images of myself making contradictory statements, so I had a sense of what might come up.
So I am sitting there Monday night, I know the tirade is going to come, I know we have four staff members there, and I know we have a recording of the hearing.
The thought of Mayor Holaday sitting in the quietness of her office listening to legislative proceedings comes into my mind. It is 8:15 p.m., and I have already put in a 12-hour work day. I think to myself, I can stay or I can go home and put the kids to bed.
Monday night, I tucked my children in. We will make our way through the recording of the testimony, and I promise not to hit the "mute" or "fast forward" buttons. What I can't promise is that the thought won't cross my mind.
Carolyn Kirk is mayor of the city of Gloucester.