So far we’ve identified two causes of the poor record of achievement by this Council – postponing decisions and spending time dealing with Planning Commission appeals. Another major contributor to their poor record this year has been the performance of Scott Voigts as the Mayor.
They like to say that the Mayor’s role in Lake Forest is only ceremonial, but that’s not true. While there is a ceremonial component to the Mayor’s role (e.g., appearing at grand openings) the real meat and potatoes of the Mayor’s role happens in the Council chambers where the Mayor presides over a 5 member Council, with nearly a dozen staff in attendance, and has to navigate an agenda which usually has a dozen or more items. The City of Lake Forest is a multi-million dollar business, with hundreds of millions of dollars in assets and a $35,000,000 annual budget. It takes a skilled hand to move the agenda forward, to deal with the disparate interests, to manage the flow of information and the flow of discourse, and to set the agenda itself so that major issues are addressed.
MEETINGS GO TOO LONG
For all his assets, Voigts has done a poor job at the helm. Even after a year he often resembles a deer caught in the headlights, fumbling with papers, asking the City Clerk or the City Attorney what he should do next. This inability to manage the protocols of a meeting has resulted in many meetings going long beyond the normal closing time, including the record setting marathon last night which went just shy of midnight.
It’s not merely his fumbling his way through the meeting which is problematic, Voigts seems unable to control his fellow Council members. Mayor Pro Tem. McCullough gets lost in reminiscences all the time, and then she launches into a 5 or more minute discussion about items not on the agenda. Mr. Nick, when he wasn’t criticizing former Councilman Herzog, could get carried away with his speeches about how great the country is, although since Herzog resigned Nick has been much better behaved. Fortunately, Councilman Robinson almost never said anything, so the time that was lost between McCullough and Nick was made up, in part, by Robinson’s long silences. A good Mayor manages his peers, but Voigts seems lost.
Even more telling, his inability to manage his peers has resulted in the most rancorous meetings in recent history (possibly in our entire history). By failing to deal with the animosity between Council members, Voigts has allowed precious time for problem solving to be taken up by arguments, accusations, and name calling that shouldn’t ever rear their ugly head in a public meeting, but more importantly, detract from the time that should be spent on problem solving. When you are so busy fighting with each other, it’s hard to make progress on substantive issues. Even worse, several times this rancor has spilled over into the decision making, and it’s been obvious that positions were being taken by members merely to spite another member, rather than what’s in the best interests of the City.
LACK OF VISION
Another role of the Mayor is to push through his/her vision for the community. Voigts has been singularly lacking in any type of vision. He has been a staunch supporter of the Sports Park, but the Sports Park was already on the schedule and funded long before he became Mayor. The only other topic he’s championed is the use of Whispering Hills as an indoor sports arena for Soccer, a sport his daughter participates in. Here we have a city with no senior center, no civic center, no dog park, no local animal shelter, and no community park while we currently have 7 soccer fields and the new sports park will give us 5 more. Can he seriously be lobbying for an indoor sports arena when the City lacks more basic services and facilities?
Councilmen Nick and Robinson have been far more articulate in championing ideas for the City, but they have been ineffective in advancing most of their projects. Nick has been unable to get his peers to support his call for transparency, sunshine ordinances, and term limits. Robinson had gotten some minor changes to our sign ordinances, but he sits there while the proportion of city spending sinks to an all-time low, and the best he can do is to schedule a workshop on how to contract with the City where 80% of the participants are from out of town. IOW, he’s done more to harm the city than to help it.
If the City is to make any progress in this next year, it will need a Mayor who can take charge, who knows how to run a meeting, and who can move us forward with a common vision of what kind of a community we need to be.