On Nov. 3, I will be opposing Whitefish’s efforts to appoint an ombudsman. I oppose this issue for the following reasons. First of all, the cost. City manager Chuck Stearns reports the taxpayer expense of an ombudsman to be $85,000 per year. For a small town like Whitefish, this cost is excessive. Secondly, the ombudsman position is nothing more than an additional layer of bureaucracy. Currently, when a citizen has a concern or problem, we merely go to the appropriate city department head, and if we are not satisfied, we can see the city manager or present our issue at a city council meeting.
In a small town of 7,000, “talking to the hand” doesn’t improve access to city government, it hinders it. Finally, the ombudsman position promises enhanced citizen advocacy, improved ethical standards, and increased bureaucratic efficiency; however, this seems rather fantastical if the ombudsman is appointed by people who are argued to be needing an ombudsman to improve their citizen advocacy, ethical standards, and bureaucratic efficiencies.
Our city council members already act as our ombudsmen. Unlike a paid city employee, we can remove city council members every election if they fail to represent us appropriately, and the city doesn’t need to spend large amounts of taxpayer money on a lengthy and costly wrongful discharge lawsuit. Let’s not complicate things. Small town Whitefish doesn’t need another city employee to offer the same sort of advocacy our city council members already promise. I urge all citizens of Whitefish to join me in voting “no” on amending the Whitefish charter to add an ombudsman position to the city’s bureaucracy.
Joseph D. Coco Jr.
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