Only three “official” Supervisor meetings remain before year’s end. Compared to past Boards, has the 2012 Board’s legislative record been pro-active, innovative and future-oriented, or merely re-active?
Prior to this year five Board Standing Committees met every month to tackle current issues and plan ahead. Every Supervisor had a hands-on role in monitoring Public Safety, Recreation and Parks, Finance, Public Works or Public Relations. Residents could meet face-to-face with Supervisors and staff at one of these regular, advertised public committee meetings to talk over specific concerns or suggestions to improve services. Every Supervisor served on two committees on a rotating basis, thereby gaining valuable experience in oversight of government operations. Whether issues involved playground equipment safety, policing or flood damage, lines of communication between Supervisors, staff and residents flourished.
This was beneficial because Supervisors regularly worked together and with staff, to not only solve present problems, but brainstorm ideas for the future. Over time individual Supervisors gained specialized knowledge while keeping all meetings open to public input.
In January this system was abolished. Chairman Chuss favored instituting “workshops” where Supervisors met to hear staff reports. “Workshops” saved time once spent at advertised committee meetings, but effectively put staff and the Board into a mostly re-active mode.
Township staffs are generally not paid to be visionary. They have job descriptions; policies and procedures to follow. Staff is hired, not elected. Staff is not paid to be attuned to the pulse of the community. Under Township government they primarily react directly to the Board. Many Forks staff members have held the same jobs for years and have seen elected Supervisors come and go. The end result of abolishing committees and reducing public meetings is that the staff may become, by default, drivers of policy, not the elected Board.
This is not simply an exercise in moving responsibilities around on an organizational chart. It is the Board of Supervisors who are charged with moving the Township forward by working in partnership with the public.
When Forks’ 50-year-old out-dated Recreation Ordinance desperately needed a vision and streamlining, it was not the staff’s job fix it. In the recent past, pro-active Boards of Supervisors modernized and expended EMT, Police and regional Fire services, vastly expanded recreational activities, created neighborhood parks, acquired additional community parkland and constructed a long-needed municipal complex with an amphitheater.
Beyond the necessary task filling a Township Manager position and allocating $80,000 for a skate park and $10,000 for a ballpark in Palmer, what forward-looking initiatives have come from this present Board? Momentum to save the Cottage and Woods came from the community, not this Board.
As issues around Braden Airport property development arise, and plans for the new park at Newlins and Richmond Roads still lay dormant, Forks’ challenges need innovative thinking and community involvement. So far the jury is out on the Let’s Do Less Work Plan that has the potential to delay by weeks even the approval and posting of Board Minutes. When information and technology can rapidly increase government transparency, does limiting community input really make sense? When you are getting “half the government” you elected, would you call that putting Community First?