A Cat that Barks – Edit

Milton Friedman wasn’t entirely accurate when he compared wanting a government that behaved like you think it should to wanting a cat that barks.  There is a viral video of a cat doing just that.

So let’s say that government can’t always be controlled, but maybe it can be corrected from time to time.  Maybe the cat can bark.

Heaven knows it’s easy to criticize.  But here’s a chance, with the possibility of the UM supervisor board changing majority this November, to reflect on what you would like to see from your local government.

Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order.

A budget that makes sense.  That’s not riddled with errors, that has up-to-date-info (recent actuals).  That has at least 3 or 4 actuals from past years, for comparison.  That has a separate ‘key’ that explains what the funds are, and what the line items are.  That has a separate page highlighting and explaining new line items.  That is annotated to document changes (ie- the Cable Fund is now ‘dead’ with revenues and expenses going directly into the General Fund), and dated so we know when those changes took effect.  That shows all funds, with transfers in and out.  Budgets in this form should be archived online, in the event someone wants to go back in time and see what was happening.

A budget overhaul, on a periodic basis.  Maybe every 4 years or so.  I’m not sure if you’d call it a forensic audit, which has a connotation of criminality.  Maybe a zero-based budget?  Where you start out with a budget of zero, and justify every single line item that goes back in.  That justifies every salary, every perk, every expense.  Also every revenue item, every fee, every tax.

What’s the point of this?  Too often people assume that something that is in the budget must stay in the budget, forever and ever.  At best their appropriations don’t go up.  Sooner or later everything needs to be inspected with fresh eyes, and the question asked: do we need this?  (If that sounds nuts, then you haven’t been keeping up with how government works!)

Access to all current township union contracts, along with their appendices (which usually detail benefits agreements), on the website for residents to peruse at their convenience.  Self explanatory.

Supervisors who are civil, no matter how tiresome and tedious a resident may be when making a public comment.  You want the job?  This is part of it.  If you as an elected official can’t keep a civil tongue, or if a particular topic or person pushes your buttons, then shut up.

Even if someone is getting abusive, you’re on the dais with 7 others and shouldn’t act in kind.  Trust the video; when you react badly, you both look bad, but you also look like a bully.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to help someone along.  If you’re getting tired of listening to someone who’s long-winded and isn’t making a point, so are the rest of us.  By all means try to keep them on point, but do it nicely.  If you can’t, let another supervisor step in.

If someone has a question, make it clear how they, and anyone watching, can get the answer.  It’s terribly annoying to hear a good question, only to hear that person be told to make a call, or send an email, or come to the township office, to get an answer.  How does that help everyone else when it’s a public issue?

A list of contract agreements made with outside consultants and outside services available on the website.  If you don’t want to include all of the details, at least put the list out so residents can request the details.  Examples: the contract with the website management group; the contract with outside public works companies; the agreements with consultants.

Give some thought to what is in the “packets” at the township meetings, and make that info available to residents.  Whenever possible, err on the side of too much rather than not enough.  It’s weird when supervisors vote on who will be the consultants and what their fees will be, looking at some page in their little ‘packets’, when the residents watching see nothing at all.  That’s as transparent as a brick wall.

I think these are the easy ones, easy in the sense that either they can be done or they can’t.  Some harder ones:

A balanced budget.  Is this possible?  Hopefully yes.  It will mean a couple of things.  1) A harder look at expenses.  2) A discussion of what we want from our municipal government, and what we’re willing to spend to get it.  Will there be a 100% agreement?  There never is.  But if you’re not willing to chime in, you really can’t complain too much about expenses.  Some don’t mind the extra maintenance costs for streetscape, some do.

An explanation of how Act 537 will be enacted in Upper Makefield, and how it will be paid for.  For some background on this, see here and here.  Re-open the conversation to assess what kinds of studies have been done so far, along with their costs, and allow for new ideas.  Make this a public meeting that is videotaped for future reference.

A four-year term for supervisors, rather than a six-year term.  I don’t even know if this is possible under the second-class township rules.  The upside?  Six years is long, and seems a bit daunting.  If the term was shorter, maybe more people would be willing to run for the office.  There are lots of people who live here, have many kinds of talents, and care deeply about the community.  They’re also busy, and have no aspirations for a political career.  What would persuade them to step up?

Some kind of rule / agreement regarding the cash surplus balance.  While it’s understood that there has to be a certain amount to start a new calendar year so the township can still operate before tax receipts come in, right now it looks like a slush fund.  Funds for a rainy day, yes.  But how much?  Maybe sometimes there should be a rebate; it’s our money.  Some discussion would be constructive.

This list is not exhaustive.  I haven’t mentioned open space, streetscape, the parks.  What happens to the open space funding (the 10+ mils voters agreed to pay) when the debt is paid down (we should get that back!)

Maybe you have other thoughts.

Edit – I should clarify that, while I put these thoughts into a post, and some are my own ideas (not that others haven’t had the same ideas!), many of the ideas come from residents and were suggested at one or more township meetings.  Some of those residents are running for supervisor – on the Republican ticket.

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