What's the toughest job in America?
From time to time business publications publish lists that are often dominated by positions like health workers, law enforcement officers, and I've even seen newspaper reporters make the cut.
My vote could be for another job that has been dubbed the "worst" job in America: city mayor. Here is a job with high stress, endless problems, enormous customer dissatisfaction and constant staff turnover – and that only scratches the surface.
With around 50,000 inhabitants, Harrisburg cannot be described as a "big" city. But as I said before, in this room it's almost a perfect microcosm of a larger city. Like Washington, D.C., it's shrunk to (in candy bar terms) "fun size".
Harrisburg has all of the problems you find in a big city in miniature. It's a business and nightlife hub, but it also has challenges that span everything from infrastructure to crime, poverty and development. Residents also reasonably expect adequate service delivery – and will let you know if their rubbish isn't picked up or their street isn't plowed.
I'm bringing this up because the city's mayors' elementary school is this month. Five Democrats, including the incumbent, are on the ballot, as is one Republican.
I understand that people will choose their candidate for a variety of reasons. But when I go to my polling station, I will vote for whoever I believe is best able, day in, day out, to do what I think is the toughest job in Harrisburg.
I think people shouldn't have any illusions about this job. It's not glamorous or gorgeous. It is a challenge. For a whopping $ 80,000 a year, you'll be rewarded with seven-day work weeks and twelve-hour work days constantly buried under a mountain of problems, pressures, complaints, and frustrations.
Being Mayor of Harrisburg is not about cutting ribbons, having good thoughts, making inspirational speeches, or basking in worship. First and foremost, it's about ice cold management.
Can you employ 450 people? Can you create and run a budget of $ 136 million? Can you oversee a dozen departments ranging from housing to public safety to IT?
As mayor, it all falls on your shoulders. Do you have the skills, the energy, the patience? Can you do it competently, at least with a little good humor? Can you handle the relentless, often cruel, criticism from the public, press and social media? Can you resist the lure of corruption?
To be honest, I don't like Harrisburg's "strong mayor" form of government. I think the city would be better served if it were run by a professional city administrator – someone specially trained and trained to run a community – under the direction and legislation of an elected city council.
Why do i think so?
As I pointed out above, being mayor is largely a management responsibility. Many elected mayors simply lack these skills. It can't be their fault as they were never trained to create budgets, manage employees, and provide services. A person cannot come in from the street and immediately knows how to run a complex organization on a budget over $ 100 million.
In addition, elected mayors are by definition politicians, and politicians do things for political reasons that are sometimes incompatible with the best interests of the public.
In Harrisburg, one need look no further than former Mayor Steve Reed's 28-year tenure to see what can happen when a city government is overly politicized and poorly managed. A dozen years after Reed left office, Harrisburg is still trying to break out of a financial hole.
But that's wishful thinking on my part.
Harrisburg has the form of government it has and I can't change that. However, I can try to make people aware of what the job of the “strong” mayor actually is, how difficult it is and what skills he needs.
I should mention that I decided to write this column after seeing some of the mayoral campaigns that seem to be dominated by statements of high ideals and profound change.
In reality, a mayor has a very narrow window to encourage change, given the dire realities of budget constraints, time constraints, and competition between needs. A mayor may not be able to fundamentally change a city, but a good, honest, hardworking mayor can lead a well-run, well-run government and create the conditions for the reliable delivery of services that help keep the city going to make a place where people want to live, visit and work. That is the essence of the job.
When I cast my vote this month, I won't pay attention to who made the most inspiring speeches or promised to change the world. Instead, I will assess who has the intellect, perseverance, and competence to best manage the complex company known as the Harrisburg City Government. And that's the person I'm going to vote for.
Lawrance Binda is co-editor and editor-in-chief of TheBurg.
Illustration by Rich Hauck.
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