At the last City Council meeting, an ordinance limiting where video cameras can be used was passed. This ordinance was sponsored by Angel Fuentes. He sponsored it because I announced at a previous meeting that I would put video of the meetings on YouTube.com .
I was disturbed by this because I do not think that in a city of poor, uneducated, disenfranchised, homeless, and hungry people, our government should waste its time passing laws to limit where Sean Brown stands. Even my arrogance will not allow me to believe that I am more important than those issues.
When anyone threatens to expose the laziness and ineptness of people in government, the tyrants will abuse their power to retain it.
This is following are for ideas of how City Council can do things that actually help people, not limit them.
As a municipality in New Jersey, Camden has a system of government that allows the elected City Council to approve the city administration to spend large amounts of money or they can vote to congratulate a winning sports team. Its power is wide ranging and stretches from the monumental to miniscule depending on the recommendations of each member or the submission of the administration.
Living in a poor city with little economic opportunity, the people quietly scream for attention and action from those who have chosen to be the enforcers of hope. We, as a people, have expectations that the problems that plague us will have government as the pharmacist or the cure; yet within that we as a community reside with a paradox where we do not trust the complicated system of government to relieve us of our pain because historically they have been the part of the problem, instead of doing their elected duty of being facilitators of the solution.
Any leader can abuse power. As a municipal legislative body, will the elected leaders make laws to bring hope to those in despair, bring shelter to the homeless, bring prosperity to the poor; or will the power be used to concentrate power to serve a small group of people who do not benefit the people whom elected them? Let us all use our gifts and powers to only do good. If we make mistakes, let those mistakes be made as we attempt to be agents of service, bringing light to those who suffer in darkness, not murderers of the progress that block the last remaining gleam of light.
Idea 1 – Have a common vision (See my first posted blog - Identity Crisis)
Where are we headed? Will Camden be a city of colleges and hospitals? Will Camden be a center of technology and industry? For the last twenty years, the city's plans have been fragmented. City Council, the Office of the Mayor, the major institutions, and the actual demands of the market do not share a reasonable plan that actually has resources to implement.
City Council can specifically do the following things:
1. Have all City Council members write down and share their priorities for their wards or entire city. Those priorities can be reviewed by the administration to see how the plans can be implemented with the limited resources that the city has.
2. After the priorities are known, City Council can begin to have the ideas made into legislation. This should include a resolution that officially adopts the priorities and vision of City Council. The resolution should be adopted at a special meeting so that the community can give its input.
3. After the resolution passes, City Council should apply its list to every ordinance and resolution that comes before it. For example, if a priority is to support youth programs and initiatives, then any action that directly or indirectly impacts youth should include an impact statement from the department that submitted the item on the agenda. Some of the priorities would call on City Council itself to act. If a priority is to be transparent and inclusive of the community, then council would have to find a way to bring the meeting to different communities.
4. City Council would also have to separately meet with other governing bodies to discover where their interests, visions, and priorities meet.
Idea 2 Meet with your constituents
There is a precedent set by Ali Sloan El. There is a lesson to be learned beyond just staying out of Atlantic City hotels. There are 75,000 people that have no idea who the people on City Council are. Go to them. Talk to them. Discuss what your job is on the governing body. Hear their challenges, frustrations, screams, cries, so that you can come back to chambers and vote in a way that reflects the will and the needs of the people.
As you go to the community, go beyond just sitting at a game, but engage in deep meaningful legislation. Talk to people younger than you. Talk to drug dealers and users. Talk to the small business owner. Talk to the father who want to have better relationship with his girlfriend so that he can see he children. Talk to the boy that keeps being harassed by the police. I think your perspective will change.
Of course there is a big assumption in this recommendation that you do not do this now. The assumption comes in the lack of action or response. Elected officials must talk to the people before action is taken, then come back and explain why the action was done the way it was.
Ali Sloan El was loved in the 2nd ward because he was present. He was at Pathmark shopping, the park cooking, the ballpark coaching, and the street sweeping. Although his effectiveness can be debated, his accessibility was considered not special, but a mandatory response for the job he was elected to do.
Another way to be more visible is to have meetings at different locations. You can do one in each ward every year.
Idea 3 – Use the power of the purse
In the United States, legislative bodies are given the power of the purse. The founding fathers determined the executive branch should not enforce to law and spend and allocate money.
The budget is submitted to City Council. The complex and intricate way the budget is now done certainly hinders how City Council can use this power and MRERA just adds layers of complication, but it can be done.
This is how:
1. City Council should research ways that the DCA should allocate monies to the city and determine what aid categories the city will all into. This needs to be done at the beginning of the fiscal year. Director Keating has some innovative thoughts on this, but has never had the support he needs from City Council and the administration.
2. Once the plan is completed, it should be presented to Commissioner Doria, the legislators from the 5th district. The plan should be supported by Judge Davis, Mayor Faison, the business administrator, and those in the community interested in the fiscal crisis.
3. City Council should then work with the administration to assure that the budget complies to the priorities as well as the master plan for the city. Note: I have reviewed the budget and noticed decreases in spending that the elected people in Camden have said are important. Look at the spending for police equipment as an example.
Idea 4 Use our culture to lift us
Our city is not divided by race, but by politics. Race is at times used as an excuse to draw the line to divide. It happens in impoverished areas around the world. We must admit and act in a way that shows that our problems are bigger than race and politics is not the tool to fix our problems.
Our communities are filled with culture. The city's most largest age group, young adults, love to dance, sing, write poetry, freestyle rap, draw, play instruments, and use other talents to express themselves. We have many ethnic groups who have cultural expression in their blood. Most cities in America would have its Broadways and Market streets filled with both city and suburban residents going to restaurants, galleries, and events; those residents would spend money and be able to see a different side of a city.
Please make comments.