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August 16, 2006

Third-grade time at Davenport city hall

Back in March, the Davenport city council was doing hot, heavy (and mostly pointless) battle over the chain of command for city attorney Mary Thee. Should she continue to report to city administrator Craig Malin, or to the council?

'Will she give an opinion to please her boss?' one proponent of change asked. The first answer to that, of course, is that if the city attorney was inclined to provide an opinion that pleased the boss, then the boss -- administrator or council -- wouldn't be getting best advice. That's kind of scary.

Anyway, after quite the circus -- a 5-5 tie vote broken by the mayor, and then a 6-4 re-vote, the outcome of which was vetoed by the mayor -- Ms. Thee continues to report to Mr. Malin.

We now know for sure that she doesn't necessarily write opinions designed to please the boss. Noooot hardly.

Her opinion is that Mr. Malin improperly gave himself a couple of cost-of-living pay increases, and that in doing so he breached his contract with the city. Six of the 10 alderpeople agreed with her this week. Mr. Malin's been formally notified he needs to re-pay the city some $3,000 within 90 days.

Mr. Malin says he acted properly, in keeping with past practice, when he took to COLA raises. But he suggested early on that he would just donate the disputed amount to charity. No more: At last word he'll be consulting with his attorney on Friday about what his next step should be.

I feel some big legal bills coming on. And over a $3,000 dispute that a bunch of third-graders could have worked out during recess.

'course, the council's been doing plenty of things of late that would make third-graders look good. Kind of a trademark of a bunch that approved a 'code of conduct' calling for respectful dealings with each other. Scratch that.

There's no 'respectful dealings' with each other, or with city taxpayers, when one faction or another is stalking out of council meetings so that there's no quorum to conduct business. That was the tactic back in February when Ron Van Fossen, Shawn Hamerlinck, Keith Meyer, Ray Ambrose and Bill Lynn disappeared, stalling a decision on a downtown development idea involving the Freight House.

We got a repeat performance during one of the Malin-related meetings, but with different actors -- Charlie Brooke, Barney Barnhill, Ian Frink and Jamie Howard took the hike this time. So nine of our 10 alderpeople have demonstrated they're in favor of taking their toys and going home if they can't have their way. Makes me proud of my council.

No wonder there was a big move recently to change the system. But changing the term of office from two years to four was an idea whose time still hasn't come. At best, it's a theoretical fix. In the end, having two- or four-year terms one of those six-of-one, half-dozen-of-the-other choices, kind of like picking who the city attorney reports to. If you got the right people, it doesn't make any difference.

As it stands now, I'm doubly happy the term-limit change proposal failed. It's pretty clear we don't have enough of the right people, and I suspect I'm not alone in being glad I'll have a crack at picking a new bunch sooner rather than later.

Posted by jcb at August 16, 2006 10:13 AM


The arrogance of the city administrator is bad enough. Then to have most of the city council give the citizenry what was in essence, a "screw you" message with the walkouts, was worse.

You are correct on the term limits, JCB. New faces are needed, preferably people more concerned with serving the people than playing games.

Posted by: Vita at August 16, 2006 12:02 PM