Should we have more accountants on the city council and staff?
I hold what I hope is the singular distinction of having watched all 8 1/2 hours of the various city council debates on NewTV. Before you judge me on my lack of hobbies, I’d like to point out that I mostly had the videos on in the background while cooking dinner or other mindless tasks over the past month or so. In order to save you some time (you’ll thank me later), I had the following takeaways:
1. By and large the candidates are in agreement that we need to have excellent schools, more affordable housing, better roads and traffic management, lively walkable villages, and environmental activism.
2. More than a few of the candidates would like to slow down a little (or a lot) on development while still finding ways to provide more affordable housing, but the majority are full-steam ahead on development.
3. Everyone wants to address climate change, but some seem to want anything and everything done now, and some appear to be mostly giving it lip service because it’s popular in Newton.
4. IMO, there is a glaring lack of emphasis on analyzing the costs and benefits of all these initiatives, hence my question of whether or not we need more accountants and analysts on the city council who will force the issue and analytically skilled staff who can follow up when they do.
The city council seems to be dominated by lawyers, non-profit executives, architects, community activists, and some business people, all of whom bring a lot ideas, energy and expertise to the table. The staff that they rely on for guidance mostly seem to be legal staff, urban planners, and occasional outside consultants, who are very competent but not skilled in financial analysis. Would the city council benefit from having more accountants and analysts who will ask the hard questions in both elected and staff positions? Should they be required to do cost/benefit analyses on new ordinances? Should they be required to review past ordinances periodically to see what is working and what is not? Should they do periodic benchmarking with other cities and towns on the budget and other initiatives? Are there ways to make the city government and city council more efficient?