Divide keeps growing in city politics

What has happened to civility in Dunkirk?

I am often reminded of the age-old adage of treating others the way we ourselves would like to be treated. Too often that is what we expect of others – not necessarily what we ourselves practice. Such is the case today throughout our city.

Once again, I find myself wondering what has happened to our elected officials. Have they lost track of why they were elected? Have they forgotten that they were elected to serve the people and do what is in the best interest of the city? As I watched our most recent council meetings I had to ask if our council members have also forgotten the “Golden Rule” of which I know we are all familiar. What has happened to civility?

There is such a divide among our mayor and the council members that it is the residents and taxpayers, and yes, the businesses who are suffering as a result of these unprofessional and bullying outbursts during our council meetings. Name calling and verbal bullying was inappropriate when we were in kindergarten, and it is inappropriate from any councilman or councilwoman today.

This brings me to the reason for this column. I was asked recently if I had any idea why this outrageous behavior is taking place in our city. The only reasonable answer I could come up with was that maybe it is a lack of understanding of the different roles and responsibilities of council members. Stay with me here as I try to explain these roles of our elected officials.

The city of Dunkirk is governed by a strong mayor form of government. That means that it is the basic responsibility of the mayor to act in the role of chief executive officer.

The mayor wears many hats, including dealing with human resources, collective bargaining agreements, labor relations, infrastructure, economic development issues/contracts, public relations, police and fire protection, health and safety issues, all areas related to public works to include streets, garbage collection, parks and recreation, water and wastewater facilities, and the list goes on. Basically, the Mayor is responsible for the administration of all facets of the city’s operations. He or she is the “Executive Branch” of city government.

But the mayor is not responsible for the various city governing policies as they relate to resolutions or what are otherwise considered to be “laws”; those are the responsibility of the city council. Likewise, the city council members are not responsible for the city’s departmental administrations, nor do they become involved in the day-to-day administration of city affairs — this is the sole responsibility of the chief executive officer, e.g. the mayor!

The principle function of the council members is to establish a course of action for the city, and in Dunkirk this is done through resolution and public hearings. There is a distinct difference between the act of formulation of a government policy and its implementation, and the ownership of these two distinct acts is also different. The council formulates and creates government policies, and the mayor ensures that implementation.

The mayor has a job to do and so do the council members, but the jobs are different.

Maybe in addition to treating each other with civility everyone could take a step back and remember their pledge to the residents of the city. That is to act in the best interest of the city and continue to move Dunkirk forward. We are only seven months into this current cycle, and there is still time to mend fences and get back on track, but that will take courage and a willingness to communicate openly and that means listening as well as to talking.

I will leave you with a quote from President John F. Kennedy who said, “So let us begin anew — remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate. Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”

There is no shame in being first to extend the olive branch or to accepting it when offered. Think about it!

Have a great day.

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com


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