City Manager Ron LeBlanc wants to increase his office’s budget by more than 40 percent. And given that he need only blow this one past the City Council he will likely get it. Were he required to put it before the voters, however, they may well be in a playoff frame of mind, see this as a hanging curve and knock it out of the park.
The city does not have $32,000 to fund the Buzz Bus and keep drunks from driving. But LeBlanc wants to spend more than $127,000 on two assistants to the city manager and another $52,000 and change for two interns? Were the public involved that could be a hard sell, especially after the city shed 37 jobs over the course of the recession.
But of course, the economy is recovering, and with that, the city has more to do. That can lead to imbalances. As reported Friday, the city has six planners all tasking one engineering technician with handling site-plan reviews.
Whether that reflects a shortage of technicians or an overabundance of planners is a question the city would probably prefer to leave unasked. But then that could be true of any number of city functions and as such is a question that should be asked.
In explaining how overworked the city has become, LeBlanc said Durango residents are “very demanding,” which is true. Why would we be otherwise? At least in municipal terms, we are rather spoiled and happily so.
Durango city government generally works well. City employees are typically competent and responsive. Municipal efforts such as the ongoing fall cleanup are usually well executed and well received. By and large, the city functions as advertised.
It does not follow, however, that Durango residents are in a mood to throw more money at city government, to accept every proclamation as to what the city needs or to consider every city activity sacrosanct.
LeBlanc is right in saying the Herald covers “very little of what the city does.” After all, were the paper to report fully on every time the city closed down Main Avenue so that those so inclined could drink beer in the afternoon, there would not be room for the weather or sports.
Nor does the paper delve deeply into the often too cozy relationship between the City Council and the city’s staff. Councilors are elected to set policy, decide direction and supervise city management – not to be buddies or cheerleaders for those they are elected to oversee.
Rather than worrying about whether the city manager is too wrapped up in details to see the bigger picture, the council should expect him to manage city government precisely by handling day-to-day affairs. Big-picture thinking is the job of elected city councilors.
Part of that could be in envisioning – or more accurately, rethinking – exactly what the city should be doing. And “everything” is probably not the best answer. Do we want to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars more on staff? If so, should we blow off a few street fairs or some city service to which we have perhaps unwisely become accustomed?
Those are big-picture calls and they are the province of elected officials. And LeBlanc’s request for more staff is an appropriate opportunity to look at those issues. Is that not what the budget process is all about?