New London voters remain at risk of repeating a favorite mistake.
The series of questionable decisions by New London Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio has apparently deceived many into imagining that our current crop of municipal ailments can be credited to aspects of his character or his paucity of experience in administration.
Not so. Our civic troubles are not due to the attributes or actions of one individual. The failure of officials to remedy our city's ills results from the defective form of government established by the latest charter change.
The Day's founder, Theodore Bodenwein, perceived, in l921, that the mayor-council system had become obsolete. Bodenwein understood that the duties of the municipal chief executive had become too numerous, too complex, too technical to be mastered by a politician untrained in administration.
Every advance in law enforcement, firefighting, public works, social service, finance made the task of the supervising coordinator more demanding.
I became acutely aware of these demands while serving as city councilor. Decisions of policy - attempts to answer the question, "What should we do?" - were difficult enough.
Councilors were continually distracted by what I will call, in this family publication, fowl feces.
However, decisions made by the city manager - attempts to answer the question, "How will we do it?" - were even more difficult. I perceived this disparity while listening to elaborate reports by department heads.
Faced with the task of selecting a new city manager, I encountered the challenges of that undertaking. Applicants, presenting their qualifications, confirmed the magnitude and number of opportunities for error inherent in their profession.
In a series of late-night executive sessions, councilors debated at length the relative strengths and weaknesses of candidates. In the end, we were still uncertain of having made the wisest choice.
The contrast between the ordeal we had undergone - what I call our trial by fact - and the relatively superficial consideration most voters have time and energy to devote to selecting an official - what I call our trial by propaganda - led me to become a persistent opponent of charter change designed to provide for an allegedly "strong" mayor.
The ballyhooed "strength" of the office is largely an illusion. The mayor has no authority to create policy. However, a particularly obtuse feature of our new charter empowers the mayor to unilaterally destroy policy, through a veto that can be overridden only by a six-to-one or unanimous vote of the council. Such votes are rare.
As stepson of a businessman, I had opportunity to observe the prevailing process of advancement in the private sector. Since survival in that sector depends on profit, which requires a modicum of competence, advancement is normally earned by outstanding performance on the job.
However, as a 30-year veteran of service in the public sector, I learned that advancement therein is gained, all too often, by osculating the appropriate posterior.
Therefore an elected mayor - most probably a charming amateur at administration - will, through his power of appointment, spread politicized amateurism throughout the bureaucracy, reducing overall competence in government.
Some may object that this argument entails the likelihood that chief executives at higher levels of government - governors, presidents - will, all too often, be minimally competent.
Having studied, and attempted to teach history throughout my adult life, I regretfully find this inference correct.
If it be further objected that a system headed by state and national managers would be tyrannical, I claim that this affliction would occur only if legislatures and the congress were weak, and that the condition could prevail only if voters were egregiously ill-informed and inattentive.
Fear not. Radical transformations are unlikely, due to inertia - a mitigated evil.
Finally, I urge our City Council to establish a new charter commission, instructed to correct the existing error. Meanwhile, my heart goes out to Mayor Finizio, whose apparent lust for power has landed him in his current position of helplessness.
Charles Frink is former teacher and department chair of social studies at New London High School. He is author of a series of articles on public affairs in The Day.