Administration, Council, and the ‘Tenth Man Rule’

Prompted from a recent written exchange, here’s a post on the relative suitability of the ‘Tenth Man Rule’ for different parts of a local government.  The Tenth Man Rule is simply the idea that “if nine in authority agree on a course of action, it’s the duty of the tenth to adopt a contrary approach, considering an opposite course of action or risk that the nine others have dismissed.”

(See, Local Gov’t Desperately Needs a Version of the ‘Tenth Man Rule’.)

Here’s the question about this rule: where does apply?

It properly applies to administrative and appointed posts rather than elective, legislative bodies (or legislative bodies in which executive authority also fundamentally rests, as in Whitewater’s Common Council).

That’s because a full-time administrator, municipal manager, department heads, and whole municipal administration, unlike an elected Council, have the time and immediate access to resources to evaluate alternatives in the way a city council does not. 

(Everyone on Council has full-time responsibilities elsewhere; they have no legislative research staff as would the Wisconsin Assembly, for example.)

In fact, when I wrote the earlier ‘Tenth Man’ post, that distinction seemed obvious to me, but I did not make it plain, as I should have, in the post. 

In a post entitled, Show Your Work, I expressed this idea more plainly, about Whitewater’s municipal administration (that is, the full-time department leaders):

Watching this municipal administration, one sees a contrast with the last one. Our former municipal manager was his own cheerleader, boosting ill-considered projects as though civilization depended on them. (He collected a few of similar ilk along the way.)

Our current municipal manager is better educated and more affable than his predecessor, and more outwardly cautious, too. He holds back at meetings, allowing his department heads to do the cheering for him.

Cheer they do – watching some of them, one might be forgiven for thinking that those department leaders worked for the very vendors whose projects the city administration should be scrutinizing.

They are so very eager, and at least one so callow, that one wonders: do you not understand these matters, or do you hope that others won’t?

The Tenth Man Rule is, or should be, a burden on full-time leaders to do more than simply propose, without due diligence of the risks, in the hope that elected representatives with full-time jobs elsewhere won’t catch the implications during a session’s discussion.

In fact, although I have disagreed with more than one Council vote, for sheer ability and intellect, this is likely the most talented Council the city has seen in many years. 

I’ve no intention of flattering; one can guess that the inclination is not in my nature. 

To say as much about Council is simply to offer a candid assessment. 

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