Opinion

Editorial: Managing the managers

The latest city government crisis to engulf Revere is exposing structural problems not unique to that city.

Revere has a popular young mayor who, by definition under the city’s governing structure, runs the city. He is counterbalanced, on paper at least, by the City Council. City department heads answer to the mayor and when city workers talk about who is boss in the big building on Broadway, they are referring to Brian Arrigo.

But the reality in Revere and many other cities is that although mayors make great leaders, they may not always make great managers. That is not to say that the external review of city finances that turned up more than $2.2 million is Arrigo’s fault.

To the mayor’s credit, he initiated a financial audit shortly after taking office in 2016 that encompassed all city departments, financial accounts, and operation policies and procedures.

The review threw a spotlight on 86 different city funds with cash balances but no revenue activity since 2014. It also revealed a Parking Department in disarray, with $90,000 in unaccounted revenue that prompted the decision to place two department employees on unpaid administrative leave.

Arrigo has supporters and they are sure to praise the proactive approach he has taken to probing city finances, exposing problems, and starting to fix them. But Arrigo and city government as a whole are playing catch-up when it comes to dealing with Revere’s latest city spending problems.

Putting workers on leave and demanding detailed answers means the proverbial horse has already left the barn. Will Arrigo be able to catch up and lasso the runaway steed? Probably, but the very fact that he has to scramble to straighten out the city’s finances points to structural problems not only in Revere’s government but the government of other cities.

Again, mayors do their best work as leaders, visionaries and people who focus and galvanize residents to make their city better. But city government is managed best by — guess who — a manager.

Most if not all Massachusetts towns have a manager or administrator. Relatively few cities have a manager but a good one could ensure a city runs like clockwork while its mayor sets and executes a vision to make the city a better place in which to live.

 

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