May 24, 2005 > Editorial: I think they got it
Editorial: I think they got it
The Fremont City Council sat down for a work session on the proposed 2005/06 budget and a strange thing happened. Staff presented a gloomy report and the need to dip into savings to balance the budget - that was expected. When the last slide was shown and it was time for the council to comment, Councilmember Wieckowski appeared to be at a loss for words, but recovered quickly to start the questioning with the usual nitpicking. As comment shifted to Councilmember Dutra, something different occurred...he looked at the big picture and called a halt to the litany of woe and asked a basic question. What is the city - including senior management and council - going to do about this problem?
Instead of concentrating on the details of the budget that are pretty well known by all who have paid attention for the last few years, Mr. Dutra challenged the council and executive staff to find out how the community feels about the city's fiscal issues. Instead of waiting until the last moment to try for another tax revenue measure similar to the failed Utility Tax, he expressed interest and shouldered RESPONSIBILITY for talking with his constituents! Dutra challenged the assembled group to stop whining and start communicating with the people that count - citizens of Fremont. Finally, the message has filtered in and as the rest of the council listened, they appeared to concur. Councilmember Anu Natarajan indicated that although she had a list of questions, Dutra's remarks trumped all else. A new sense of purpose appeared to emerge from this meeting.
Hope springs eternal and this is a moment that certainly qualifies. It may be possible for the legendary phoenix to rise from the ashes of Fremont's fiscal debacle. I still believe there is (and always will be) a need to closely scrutinize the budget but before a responsible fiscal plan can be put in place, honest dialogue must begin between staff, council and citizenry. Without all three, communications are incomplete and conclusions fraudulent. Staff and council learned with failure of the Utility Tax (Measure V) at the polls, that agreement between staff and council leaves out a very important and powerful component - the people who put them there.
The question now is what will be the result of this epiphany? It is only when councilmembers begin to visit more community organizations to listen and collect information rather than lecture that the process will generate momentum. The other side of the equation is participation of staff in the same process. Staff must become more involved with community functions and activities so a bridge can be formed to communicate citizen frustrations and desires. Few residents enjoy listening to staff members extol the virtues of other cities, implying the second-rate status of their own. The beginning of respect is understanding and communication. The creation of a revised General Plan for Fremont is to begin with the collection of information. This is a good opportunity for the city to pull together, do our own work and forgo high-priced consultants.