Let’s try to make the budget exciting!

logo 6th in a series of posts on the 2020 Budget logo

MAYOR DONCHEZ’S 2020 BUDGET ADDRESS

Baby Gadfly was pretty brash.

Back at the beginning of the year diapered Gadfly was critical of the Mayor’s annual “State of the Union” (oops, City) address, critical of where it was given and how it was pitched.

Remember? Given to a group of business people. The general public could pay to attend. Pay. Ugh.

Gadfly thought he had mellowed. But last Friday’s recent Budget address (given under the very same circumstances) by the Mayor finds him in the same mood.

Gadfly sees the “State of the City” address and the Budget address as ritual communal events involving “the people” — exciting moments for robust wide-ranging discussion from a broad set of perspectives, a time for the whole City to be listening and responding.

He thinks they should be bigger deals than they are.

Gadfly is all about citizen participation. We don’t have that at these significant moments.

After the “State” address he proposed assembling, say, four people to complement the Mayor’s address with posts on Gadfly, posts that appraise the City from a variety of angles, through a variety of lenses, using different metrics — not necessarily to compete with, criticize, answer, or attack the Mayor, but complementary views aimed at the conversation that builds community.

You saw Gadfly propose exactly the same thing — a “Perspectives on the Budget” series of posts — in these pages on Friday. (Will anyone pitch in?)

Gadfly has no especial quarrel with the Mayor’s performance or the state of the city. On the contrary, Gadfly’s actually a pretty happy camper. There were great things in the “State” address, and now the Mayor’s proposing a budget with no tax increase.

Gadfly just doesn’t feel he’s talked to or with about such important matters as the state of the city and the budget.

And he’s pouty about it.

Gadfly almost went to the Friday businessperson’s breakfast where the Mayor delivered the Budget address. He wanted to feel the vibe of the gala premiere rather than the ho-hum of the stale routine re-run that will occur tonight when the Mayor delivers the same address to Council and a splatter of spectators to get it “on the record.”

And now he can’t go tonight for even the re-run. This first Budget hearing conflicts with the 2 W. Market Zoning Board hearing that won’t be recorded for his later viewing as the Budget hearing will.

Here’s what Gadfly is pouty about.

The Budget address is not addressed to him (“us”).

See if you are any different than Gadfly.

Gadfly wanted the Mayor to burst right out of the rhetorical gate in the address proclaiming “Here’s what we’re doing for you with your tax dollars in 2020!” “Here’s how we’re doing what you want us to do!” “Here’s how I’m fulfilling my promises to work for you!”

Ahh, now that would get his attention!

Gadfly simply thinks the budget address would have been quite, quite different if the Mayor imagined “the public” in front of him rather than an auditorium of business people.

Quite different — and more effective at engaging the public.

As is, Gadfly had to search for the headlines in the address that would have dominated chatter over his breakfast table: our A+ credit rating and no increase in taxes.

Now those are things that should be shouted from the Payrow parapet.

And in Gadfly’s mind, budget addresses should emphasize the future.

Much of the Mayor’s address is about the past. These things in the address have already happened or been done: Martin Tower, the Sands sale, bye-bye to 9-1-1, hello to the Service Center, Memorial Pool construction, Golf course renovation, the web site, a new fire truck, a new EMS vehicle, 10,000 tons of new macadam, etc., etc., etc.

So much time spent on these things, laudable and good as they are.

But what’s new?

The Climate Action Plan, the Census, the Housing Inspection Plan, the Stormwater Plan.

In Gadfly’s mind, the new should be foregrounded.

We look forward to what we should look forward to.

And two of those four new items are driven (rather uninterestingly to most of us) by outside forces.

Gadfly would further foreground the two that are driven by inside forces, the two that are truly City “initiatives.”

Imagine with Gadfly the excitement that could be generated over the value to the address of more vivid descriptions of the home-grown Climate Action and Housing Inspection plans.

And Gadfly wants to feel excitement at these pivotal moments.

Excitement over what we’re going to get for our bucks.

As is, the announcement of the budget and the subsequent budget hearings spread out over several weeks might pass virtually unnoticed by the general citizenry.

Now there’s a danger in talking directly to the public, of course, as elected official know better than anyone else. As Gadfly writes, the one — only one! — response to the budget address on the City Hall Facebook page is by a member of the Lehigh Valley branch of the populous Ad Hominem family.

Sigh.

One thinks of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye imagining someone writing “Fuck you” on his tombstone.

Sorry for that guy, Mr. Mayor — but we must still try to make the damn budget exciting to the general public.

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