September 18, 2012 > Editorial: Leadership
How many battles have been won from behind the front lines with part time generals?
Prior to World War II, French soldiers waited behind a series of impregnable trenches and fortifications, the infamous Maginot Line, but were stymied when enemy tanks outflanked them. Those who envisioned a front line so strong it would never bend were blind to the dangers at its perimeter. Even with sound strategy, tactics of others can confound and weaken the result. Confidence in the Maginot Line phenomenon was a result based on preconceived ideas and methods. Without full consideration of weaknesses inherent in the idea, the German Blitzkrieg was devastating and doomed the French to disaster.
Listening to candidate forums gives me a similar feeling. Filled with grand plans, lofty ideals and promises of how Fremont will be lifted to a position of prominence, especially from mayoral candidates, the reality of our situation can be a bit deflating. Speaking of leadership and economic vitality, one of the primary questions to pose to each candidate is specifically what programs, tactics or action plans they propose and will actively manage to achieve these goals.
Since Fremont is undeniably a large city in population and geography, asking our elected, meagerly paid, part-time leaders to balance their efforts between gainful employment and civic business is a near impossible, Herculean task. Some candidates have noted this by saying they are fortunate to either be retired or supported by spousal income and therefore able to spend the vast majority, even 100 percent, of their time on City matters. For all, even with the best intentions, power and practical control is left to the City Manager; enhanced by severe restriction of contact with staff by Mayor and Councilmembers.
Between city affairs, commissions and committees that give voice to Fremont - and Southern Alameda County - in financial and policy decisions, there is not much time for other pursuits. Relying on a part time council and mayor to represent this city has become unrealistic. Other cities of this size and scope use different systems that, with admitted flaws, recognize the time and effort necessary for administration and response to citizens. Fremont, and by extension, the rest of the area, has instead lined up behind a Maginot Line of a General Law City that diminishes the importance of elected front line leadership and a deprives citizens of a full time elected, official general. It should be asked of candidates for mayor and council whether the time has come to establish a blue ribbon panel to investigate the feasibility of a Charter City and/or full time mayor. This should be done apart from the existing management structure which is invested in the current Maginot Line of city operations.
No matter which candidate gives answers that resonate with you, the truth is that these part time folks have limited power and are hampered in their ability to actually change the complexion of Fremont. Not many veterans were led by officers and generals shouting, "This way to the rear!" It is time to revisit the concepts of a Charter City and increased responsibility of Fremont's mayor. There are plenty of forums left to ask these questions of mayoral and council candidates. Although some may duck and cover, or plan to be absent from questioning by voters, leaving prepared speeches and platitudes with surrogates, those who dare to face voters and respond to questions should be asked whether they plan to lead from the front lines or the rear.