In the 1980's comedy classic Ghost-Busters, it was the Mayor who spoke for the City. When confronted with strange paranormal activity of "biblical proportions", he told the fictional archbishop, "I am going to hold a press conference and tell everyone to pray."
It is inconceivable that any mayor would have to defer basic public relations responsibilities to a designated spokesperson, but that is what is being suggested by Kevin Dillard, a Wildwood ward 3 councilman. At the council's April 8th meeting, Dillard proposed that instead of allowing the mayor to speak to the media directly, that the council should elect an official spokesperson for the city. The measure was defeated by a vote of the council, but Dillard has said he may bring it up for reconsideration.
Sometimes citing personal disagreements, Dillard has been a frequent critic of Mayor Bowlin.
In a statement to West Newsmagazine Dillard said, “I don’t trust him [Bowlin] to have the judgment to be the spokesperson for the city without substantial oversight. That was a major influencing factor on me bringing the issue up for discussion.”
His proposal is an attempt to undo an election and to usurp the role of an elected official. It is ill-advised and undemocratic.
In times of celebration or crisis it is the mayor of a city that is expected to address the public. This American tradition extends to governor's and the office of president as well.
Franklin D. Roosevelt, the only president to be elected to four terms led our nation through two of its greatest crises; The Great Depression, and World War Two. Roosevelt addressed the nation in a series of 30 nationally broadcast Fireside Chats. He talked about the pressing issues of the day including such things as the banking crisis and fighting fascism in Europe. It is likely that there were some in congress that would have preferred to stymie this role by the appointment of an official national "spokesman" to address the nation. Of course such a suggestion would have been ridiculous, as is Dillard's.
A city's mayor, the governor of a state, or the President of the United States is a designated chief executive. It is the chief executive who is responsible for the day to day operation of government. And it is vital that they have a direct line of communication with the public. People want to know how their mayor, governor or president is responding to challenges. They will take note and give an appraisal at the ballot box. It is also a long-standing tradition that any decision or statement by a Mayor is going to be challenged by various voices in the media. Council members who disagree with the executive are quick to offer alternative opinions, often in the press.
We are a nation built on the principles of elected representation, and the balance of powers. Our city's charter makes the mayor the "chief executive" and promotes "a balance of powers". Various voices will have their own platform, and the public is smart enough to know that the mayor does not speak with complete authority. He cannot because democratic governments are not monolithic; they have branches and balances of power. We need to respect the democratic choice of our residents and not attempt to hamstring our elected officials for the sake of political expediency.
It is time that Wildwood's anti-Bowlin movement stop trying to usurp the duties of the Mayor as provided by our city's charter, and allow for the smooth operation of our government. The attempt to necessitate an official spokesperson for the city is just another scheme to muck up the works because of personality conflicts.
This type of all-out assault on our city's institutions is truly corrosive and an insult to our resident's intelligence and their choice of Mayor.
Maybe its time for a fireside chat.