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City leadership requires bold leadership

By: Stan Nader and Mike Miller Special to The News Messenger
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The role of any city leader, councilman or senior staff, can best be described as exercising good judgment in managing the affairs of the city. Good judgment can best be measured by how it prioritizes, plans and executes those plans. Simply having the city?s best interests in mind just doesn?t cut it! The criteria for establishing how to prioritize the activities and resources of a city are rooted in the vision, values, objectives and goals that have been set down for that city. In the case of Lincoln, people point to the General Plan as that vision document. Unfortunately, the 2008 General Plan is overly optimistic at the least and does not reflect the realities we face today. It was written under completely different economic times and has not been updated to address the current economic environment. There are elements that remain viable but, on the whole, is not the plan to follow. We need a new plan that reflects the current vision with consideration of our current financial circumstances. That new plan needs to drive the budget process and needs to be reviewed and updated every year. The current top three priorities for the city of Lincoln should be public safety, financial management and economic growth. Public safety is always ?Job No. 1? for any city. Over the past five to six years, the delivery model for public safety in Lincoln has become unsustainable. The budget for police has increased by 60 percent while the number of officers has dropped by more than 20 percent. While police and fire consume the vast majority of the General Fund budget, their ability to deliver basic services has diminished. The combination of debt service and the cost of personnel is putting the General Fund in an extremely strained condition. The recent MOU is a solid step in the right direction. Given the current financial state of the city, one would think being able to monitor spending and the budget would be a high priority. Unfortunately, we are just now receiving the auditor?s report for fiscal year 2010-11 as we prepare the budget for fiscal year 2012-13. Many of the same issues, created when city leaders did not execute an audit, remain unresolved although we have known about them for years. The city does not have sufficient resources to properly manage the daily financial management activities, with proper internal controls, of a city our size. The development services fund has been draining its reserves, $1.7 million this year, for several years during which time development has screeched to a halt. The auditor?s reports points out that the development services fund will be exhausted in fiscal 2013-14. Where is the plan for growing and diversifying our city?s economic base? Back in January, Mayor Spencer Short called out economic development as the No. 1 priority for his term as mayor. Beermann?s opening does not define economic growth. We need a cohesive economic plan that aligns with the vision, values, goals and objectives set forward by city leadership that addresses: 1) helping current businesses thrive, 2) helping new businesses get started, 3) actively recruiting businesses that could benefit from the economic assets of the city, 4) actively recruiting a ?game changer? to our community and 5) representing Lincoln in any and all regional efforts to expand and diversify the economic base. The city needs to diversify with growth in commercial/light industrial development beyond just retail and restaurants. The citizens of Lincoln require bold leadership during this time of economic and fiscal crisis. I challenge the council and senior city staff to allocate resources in line with a new plan focused on changing the economic future of Lincoln. Only through economic growth can the city get back to the quality of life that brought us all to Lincoln. Stan Nader is a Lincoln City Councilman and Mike Miller is a Lincoln resident.