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Separation of powers a matter of degree



The degree to which the people and their elected representatives get involved in the day-to-day details of governance depends on how keenly the results are felt and on the relative opportunity for corruption.

Our Constitution sets up a purposely cumbersome system of checks and balances between three branches of government, a principal that follows all the way down to the local level, where it sometimes seems forgotten.

The legislative branch (municipal councils) make the laws and set the budget. Seeing that those things get carried out in a way the people want is up to the executive (the mayor and city hall). Courts can decide on disputes between the two and on everything not clear.

When it comes to hiring clerks and workers, inviting the participation of council members can lead to a system that gives them power over people’s jobs. That can lead to corruption. Best leave such routine hiring up to the executive.

But as the importance of positions to be filled rises, some level of non-executive participation should be accommodated. Just as when important federal jobs are filled, the Senate gets to confirm or deny appointments, the hiring of an official who wields the kind of power a chief of police does should be overseen.

Keeping such a position shielded from politics is also important, which is where civil service commissions come in.

Mayors and those who elect them will do well to keep such principles in mind.

Scott Hunter

editor and publisher

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