Late final month, Bangor metropolis councilors accredited a couple of insurance policies, similar to guidelines for brief time period leases and emergency shelters, that town has been creating and refining for years earlier than going earlier than the council for remaining approval.
The 2 new ordinances are examples of adjustments that took metropolis employees and elected officers years to draft and tweak earlier than they have been lastly accredited. Many different adjustments and new concepts have been tangled in municipal pink tape for months or years. Some concepts and priorities have been delayed indefinitely or forgotten altogether.
These concepts embrace making a housing manufacturing plan, which a metropolis housing workgroup advisable in 2019, and hiring a homelessness specialist. Hiring a specialist was advisable in December 2022, however as of final month, town was “nonetheless making an attempt to determine what that ought to appear to be” and hadn’t but marketed the job opening, in line with Metropolis Supervisor Debbie Laurie.
These delays have finally hindered progress on developments that would assist Bangor’s most urgent points, similar to homelessness and housing, previous and current metropolis councilors agreed. They pointed to town’s native election cycle, hesitancy to make choices and staffing shortages as a couple of main causes behind the sluggishness.
Too many new faces
Bangor’s present council election cycle results in three of the 9 councilors being up for reelection every year. This will result in as much as a 3rd of the council being new and studying on the job every year.
“Each November is sort of a reset button is pushed and there’s a interval of getting folks up to the mark that should occur,” mentioned Lauren Supica, who sat on the Bangor Metropolis Council from 2017 to 2020 and now serves as a state consultant. “There’s a method to elect folks the place we’re all becoming a member of on the identical time and studying on the identical velocity in order that we are able to work on issues collectively.”
As much as a 3rd of the council at all times being new can result in an overreliance on metropolis employees who’ve institutional data, Supica mentioned. Whereas councilors ought to look to metropolis employees for his or her experience, they will’t neglect their obligation to additionally maintain them accountable if issues aren’t aligning with what residents need or want.
“By statute, town council isn’t alleged to be too concerned in day-to-day operations within the metropolis,” Councilor Cara Pelletier mentioned. “However, it’s our job to step in if issues aren’t progressing as they need to. It’s on town council to reiterate priorities and maintain metropolis departments and town supervisor accountable.”
This frequent turnover of metropolis councilors leaves room for priorities and plans to slide by the cracks just because the brand new members don’t know to ask about them, mentioned Councilor Clare Davitt, whose time period expires this month.
To fight this, Supica and Davitt advisable town supervisor and division heads proceed their custom of debriefing the brand new council within the days after every election. The assembly offers the brand new councilors an concept of what points and efforts they’ve inherited.
In his remaining weeks on council, Jonathan Sprague additionally created long-term plans for the way Bangor can deal with homelessness and housing that he hopes will act as a information for the following council on what town is engaged on and what’s left to take action nothing will get misplaced or forgotten.
The plans, Sprague mentioned, will even monitor the council’s progress on varied efforts and maintain town accountable in the event that they don’t end issues.
Overreliance on resident enter
No matter what number of employees a metropolis has, Sprague mentioned there have been instances when town deliberately delayed a choice so residents have the chance to supply their concepts and opinions on a difficulty.
This observe, whereas legitimate, has maybe been used an excessive amount of in Bangor, Pelletier mentioned. The town’s two-year delay on deciding what to do with its $20.5 million of federal pandemic reduction funding is a first-rate instance.
The town already has steering, like its Complete Plan, that was created by gathering in depth public remark. In some instances, these plans can be utilized quite than gathering a brand new crop of public feedback that delays a choice or implementation of one thing, Davitt mentioned.
Different priorities, like making a plan to deal with homelessness, get kicked down the street as a result of councilors are overwhelmed and don’t know the place to start, or aren’t able to decide, Sprague mentioned.
When Davitt joined town council in 2017, Bangor had accredited its third moratorium on leisure marijuana companies quite than making a remaining choice on whether or not to permit them. She was annoyed as a result of if town accredited a fourth moratorium, that may make town weak to lawsuits, however she mentioned councilors nonetheless appeared unwilling to choose on the difficulty.
“Nobody needed to should say ‘sure’ or ‘no,’” Davitt mentioned. “At a sure level, let’s simply vote.”
All through her six years on council, Davitt noticed different instances through which councilors have been “ambivalent or lacked enthusiasm” about one thing however weren’t prepared to say “no,” so that they requested employees for extra data, dragging out the choice making course of.
“All of us should be held accountable, even when the choice is uncomfortable,” Davitt mentioned. “We’re
all there to vote.”
Nonetheless, there are sometimes developments within the metropolis, like new insurance policies or zoning adjustments, that take in depth analysis and edits, and bounce between metropolis employees and the planning board earlier than ever making it to metropolis councilors’ desks for remaining approval, Davitt mentioned.
Fixed staffing shortages
The council’s heavy reliance on metropolis employees has been additional difficult lately by staffing adjustments in management positions, together with division heads and town supervisor, and worker shortages throughout most departments.
Supica mentioned town cleaved its employees between 2008 and 2015 and consolidated positions as folks retired. Whereas this retains taxes low for residents, considerably fewer workers makes it tough for employees to perform a lot past the fundamental municipal duties that maintain town operating.
“We’ve minimize and minimize and minimize to the purpose the place we’ve a small variety of folks doing lots of work,” Supica mentioned. “We’ve acquired some massive points we’re coping with which are occurring all around the U.S., nevertheless it’s arduous to maintain issues on the entrance burner as a result of we’re brief staffed and burned out.”
Sixty-two of town’s 606 positions have been nonetheless vacant as of final month, giving Bangor a staffing emptiness charge of 10.2 p.c, in line with a report Laurie offered to councilors on Oct. 23.
Sprague agreed that town must bolster its workforce, however mentioned “the absence of staffing ought to by no means lavatory down progress.”
Whereas town works to rent extra folks, Davitt advisable the following council ought to often examine on what progress town supervisor and division heads have made on varied points. These conversations ought to embrace enter from metropolis employees on what different tasks they’re engaged on and the way these duties may gradual progress on something the council has requested for.
This could give the council and residents extra data on how lengthy one thing may take to finish, and assist councilors be extra specific about what they need metropolis employees to prioritize.
“There are occasions when expectations are set method too excessive, and typically issues are price pushing all the pieces apart to get one thing finished,” Davitt mentioned. “There must be a stability, except we’re by no means going to maneuver on something.”