Kevin Valine

City committees by other names? Not so sweet

The City Council adopted Modesto’s latest strategic plan this week.

The plan, which covers important issues, is pretty dry reading. But it does offer unintentional comedic relief regarding the part of the plan that renames three of the council’s four subcommittees.

Finance is now the Effective, Responsive and Transparent Government Committee; Safety and Communities is now the Great, Safe Neighborhoods Committee; and Economic Development is now the Healthy Economy and Vibrant Infrastructure Committee. City officials did not rename the Audit Committee.

The new names are vague, a mouthful to say and raise the wrong kinds of questions for the city.

What exactly is effective, responsive and transparent government? Shouldn’t government already be dedicated to those values? Having a committee with that name makes me think Modesto is anything but effective, responsive and transparent. It’s kind of like whenever someone starts off a conversation by saying, “Let me be perfectly frank,” I know they are about to tell me a lie.

And having a committee dedicated to a healthy economy raises the possibility that Modesto could have chosen other descriptors, such as the stagnant economy committee or the sick economy committee. The old name of the Economic Development Committee was clear and simple.

And what exactly is vibrant infrastructure? I’ve never looked at a street or a bridge or a sewer line and said, “Wow, look how vibrant that is!”

These names did not go over well with all of the council members. For instance, Dave Cogdill Jr. said the new names are confusing and wordy. He got to the heart of the matter when he said the city should focus less on what it calls the committees and more on how well they work.

And while council members unanimously adopted the strategic plan at their Tuesday meeting, they also agreed to revisit the names at a later date, so there is a chance the new names won’t stick.

To be fair, City Manager Jim Holgersson said the idea behind renaming the committees is to align what they do with the objectives of the strategic plan. That would give the city a way of staying on track and monitoring its progress with the plan, which includes such goals as helping Modesto’s neighborhoods.

Holgersson said he wanted to use the council committees rather than create another method to keep the city on track with its strategic plan.

That was smart. Modesto already has too many meetings, too many committees and too much bureaucracy. But the committees’ new names? Not so smart.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

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