Highfalutin' Hall

August 8, 2012 

First of all, it’s not a knee-jerk negative reaction to raise an eyebrow at discussions of adding more assistants for the benefit of Raleigh City Council members. The ‘brow goes up because the city has left positions unfilled and a still-sluggish economic environment is not the right atmosphere in which to hire staff for council members, who are part-time employees. (Although they’re getting raises and access to health and dental insurance through the city, a non-insignificant perk.)

Members who like the staffing idea, also backed by Mayor Nancy McFarlane, say Raleigh is a much bigger city than it was 10 years ago (staff support hasn’t changed in that time) and they have many more constituents to deal with. Often, they say, they work late at night answering correspondence and the like. If all had assistants, those individuals could do initial research for them and handle other duties. (Assistants for all, by the way, is not the only idea on the table.)

True enough. But those constituents also have direct access to City Hall, where they can speak with people in charge of various services and even with City Manager Russell Allen. It’s not as if they have to go through their council members. If staff were added, and those council members started taking on even more personal constituent problems themselves, it might well create problems for professional city staff, perhaps to the point of politicizing the ordinary process of answering citizen needs.

Former Mayor Charles Meeker, who served four council terms and 10 years as mayor, was not supportive of the idea of additional staff. The system as it existed, he said, worked well. That Meeker, with his long service and private legal career, is not backing this idea is significant and ought to give the council pause. The idea from members isn’t horrible or a threat to the Republic, but the timing just isn’t right and the possible side effects aren’t worth it.

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