You know when someone gets on TV who has just ridden a pogo stick across the country and they say "the hardest thing I did was deciding to do it" ? Yeah, me either, but it is often true that the hardest decision is to crack that first tough nut. The experts all say that it is downhill from there. In public policy the experts are often full of crap – the hardest step isn't making that first decision, it is sticking with that decision after your constituents find out about it!!!
So it is in our fair city. We took some positive steps last year: the School Board and the Council joined hands and passed our CIP. This was a much needed and positive step. However, as difficult as this step was, it is only a downpayment on what needs to happen to get our City back on the right track. Yes, spending taxpayer money is tough but you know what's even tougher? Twerking.
Wait, what? I was distracted by Miley's latest hit, "wrecking ball". Sorry.
No, what's tougher is making and sticking with unpopular policy decisions. The number of people who show up to oppose spending pales in comparison to the numbers when Council even talks about unpopular policy. Want a room full of angry people? Have a discussion about reducing trash pickups. People get pissed! The City Council has not, in recent years, made these kinds of decisions. We've spent the vast bulk of our time on the budget. We have just started next years budget and the Council will meet 24 times on the budget. 24 times. Instead of me prattling on, let me just recast this debate in the form of a question: would you characterize the results of our current approach to governance as "successful"? Are you better off now than you were 6 years ago? I don't think we are.
Indeed, the Council's response to the problems that vex us has been mired in suburban thinking and policy. Perhaps if we spend just a little more time on the budget everything will be ok?!. Bollocks. We're trying to solve urban problems with rural thinking. Indeed, the City's population has transformed from a upper-middle income largely white suburb to a lower-middle income enclave with 40-ish percent of our residents being immigrants from central and south America. The schools have seen this the most clearly although their response was as confused as the Council's. Talk about sticking to the company line. We sent "X" number of kids to Ivy League schools! Yay! What about the other thousands? Could they put that on their resume?
The predicable result of this has been seen elsewhere before and now we're seeing it: at least 1 and maybe 2 rounds of white flight, the business leadership has decamped for tonier surrounds and the schools are struggling.
Now, I'll take a bit of a break for a cup of coffee and some Slipknot. I needed a bit of lubricant when I started and will now switch to coffee to maintain that edge…..
Okay, back at it. See, I believe….no., strike that. I KNOW that any organization that faces drastic change will only recover and thrive when the leaders of those organizations clearly identify and understand the challenges they face…and are bold enough to take decisive action. Creeping incrementalism is the plague to be avoided. Sure, it is easier and events may bypass the problem to make half measures look successful but this is more often the cause of failure than success. Could be a company, city or nation.
In the public sector, it's the "decisive action" part that is the sticking point. Decisive action in government is n.e.v.e.r as easy as it looks. Really great politicians can do it and make it look easy but that's a rare lot. We've buried the last of those leaders on the Federal level and there aren't any on the horizon. On the local level you're stuck with the likes of me. Guys like me try to deliver decisive leadership but mostly we struggle with it. In defense of my colleagues and myself, we have no staff to help with this stuff, almost no communications media available and have to get up and go to a real job tomorrow. Nevertheless I'm unfazed by those limitations and if you keep reading you're bound to see me fall on me own sword. To wit:
So, not for the first time, I'll be accused of parading around like some font of rarified knowledge and it is, therefore incumbent upon me to spill it. I'll do that but do know that I'm about to get myself uninvited from all of the good Christmas parties and alienate some fair number of people but that's my lot in life and I've shrunk from that role for too damn long.
And….I'll provide particular suggestions in the next post but allow me a bit of foreshadowing: there isn't a damn thing wrong with the makeup of the City. The people that live here are the people that live here. It's up to the leadership to provide better outcomes for our peeps. We're past the initial shock of the immigration wave. Time to make some more hard decisions and, oddly enough, the schools are leading the way…..Gimme 2 days and I promise I'll deliver.