Seares: Free Labella to focus on big tasks

THERE was this front-page photo in SunStar Cebu’s July 2 paper, with Cebu City Mayor Edgar Labella in his temporary office being swarmed with people.

Okay, it was Monday, his first day at City Hall as elected mayor, and the visitors were barangay captains who helped him win. But imagine him on other days, when the air of celebration and novelty will have gone, and Mayor Labella will be tackling the city’s huge problems.

Policy of inclusion

He wants to open his doors to everyone, including those who opposed him. He embraces the policy of inclusion, he said during Sunday’s (June 30) inaugural, with full access to him by his public.

A symbolic step is the decision to hold office at the ground floor of City Hall, instead of the eighth floor, where his predecessor Tomas Osmena held his, keeping a vigilant eye on South Road Properties. Edgar would make things easier for the poor, the elderly and disabled, who may find the elevator ride intimidating.

It is standard public relations for a politician to impress on constituents that he is not aloof or inaccessible and he is with them and for them even as he leads and rules. And open doors serve as apt metaphor.

Yet, as the SunStar Page 1 image subtly yet convincingly showed, few politicians can get much done if he is continually besieged by visitors. The mayor has to manage his time and that requires efficient selection of tasks and appointments for the chief executive.

Politicians shun “cordon sanitaire” as anti-people. Yet the mayor’s precious time must be spent on the city’s pressing problems. And some “cordon” or its equivalent has to pick the people he himself has to meet and the work he himself must do.

Balancing act

That calls for a balancing act, which a former governor never quite learned, thus eventually cutting off almost all personal contact by him with common voters. Among Labella’s dilemmas in the next three years is how to get his work done and yet not lose touch with those who elected him.

A useful reminder is that City Hall is a place mainly for work, only occasionally for socializing and ceremony. A public official may still reach out to his mass base where the people are, not in the place of work. Who says the “pulong-pulongs” (small meetings) are useful only during the campaign?

Mike as czar

Mike Rama won’t have Labella’s problem. His work is not as demanding as those of the mayor, a position he occupied for two terms.

As vice mayor and presiding officer of the City Council, his job is mostly keeping it productive and avoiding the gridlock that results from a divided legislature. The 2013 and 2016 City Councils instructed us on the high cost of a Sanggunian obsessed with dueling with the mayor and derailing his programs.

Can Mike legally be designated chairman of four committees? Prize committees: health, hospital services and sanitation; tourism, arts and culture, “sister-city” relations and “big brother” programs, and environment and natural resources.

Which in effect would make him the health and hospital czar, the garbage czar, the tourism czar and the environment czar, unless Labella would appoint “deputy mayors” for each?

Under the Cebu City Charter and the Local Government Code, the vice mayor can exercise powers and functions that may be prescribed by law or ordinance. And the City Council’s house rules allow it.

Shifting to and fro

Vice Mayor Mike’s problem is not his main function as head of the legislative department and presiding officer. As committee chairman, he will lead discussion in each of the groups and on the floor, when he steps down to present and defend his report.

Never mind the transition to avoid the conflict of roles. But shifting to and fro may eat up more time for everyone, given Rama’s penchant for saying a lot about anything. Unless in his return to his old job, he will change method and style.

Mayor Labella needs all the stamina he can summon for the big work. And to Vice Mayor Mike, bring it on.


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