Monday, December 29, 2008

WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING???

Over the past year as we have wrestled with such issues as incentives, taxes and the courthouse complex I have received some comments and criticism regarding how I have dealt with the issues of the day. So I have taken a little time to reflect on how I view my role as a City Councilman as well as how I deal with issues.

I have deliberately stayed away from issues of political philosophy and stuck with the nuts and bolts of the decision making process. I’ve also taken the liberty of getting some comments from those more learned than myself.



Please feel free to take issue with, elaborate, or just comment on what follows:

1. The guiding principle--

“When the leaders choose to make themselves bidders at an auction of popularity, their talents, in the construction of the state, will be of no service. They will become flatterers instead of legislators; the instruments, not the guides, of the people.”

“Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

Edmund Burke

The percentage of popular support on a particular issue is not as important as understanding the basis for that support or opposition. This information should be considered as you deliberate and come to a decision. In making a decision you must be prepared to place before the public the rationale for your decision and to address the concerns expressed by those who oppose it.

In the end your decision should not be based on what may be popular but rather on what you believe is in the best interest of the community.

2. A dose of reality a day is a good thing--

“Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”

Sigmund Freud

It is human nature for us to associate with those who hold the same ideas and opinions as we do. However, an elected representative makes no greater mistake when they bask in the accolades of their friends and supporters only to discover that those supporters don’t represent the majority view.

As an elected representative you must broaden your associations to include ALL your constituents. While accolades are great for the ego accepting, learning from criticism, will serve you and your constituents better in the end. This is not to say that you must sacrifice your views. People cannot expect that you will agree with their position on a particular issue but they should expect that their position would be given a fair hearing. The goal is not to expect agreement but rather understanding.

Seek out those who take issue with you. You will find your suppositions tested, see an issue from another point of view, and may come away with a better solution. This is what the democratic process is all about.

3. When it becomes personal it’s time to leave--

“Do good to your friends to keep them, to your enemies to win them.”

Benjamin Franklin

Each vote is a new day. You will make your case on the issue and have the potential of getting a unanimous vote. Those of your colleagues who voted against you in the prior vote are back in play on this one. This should always be the case if your focus is on making decisions that you feel are in the best interest of the community.

What too often happens is that you were not happy that the last vote didn’t go your way or that a comment was made that you took personally and the best interest of the community becomes a little less important and getting some form of personal satisfaction becomes a little more important. Unfortunately this situation tends to have a snowball affect and you reach the tipping point where personal issues trump the good of the community. This situation is not unknown to this region. Nor can any of us call ourselves saints.

It takes a conscious effort to avoid the slip into this situation. If you have issues with a colleague or staff it’s time for a chat. If you cannot refocus on the needs of the community it’s time to go.

4. You will never make everyone happy--

"It doesn’t matter which side of the fence you get off on sometimes. What matters most is getting off. You cannot make progress without making decisions.”

Jim Rohn

While this statement may seem a bit obvious one has to ask then why do we keep trying to do it. What is even more astounding is that in trying to make everyone happy we only seem to annoy people even more; or at the least, we will sacrifice the outcome we wanted.

Compromise is part of the process. However the focus of that effort should be to achieve a desired outcome. When you instead make compromises to curry favor you most often
overcomplicate the process, add unnecessary cost, and nine times out of ten, you lose your original base of support or just annoy another interest group.

Another casualty of focusing on the unattainable goal of making everyone happy is your own integrity.

5. It’s about outcomes not process--

“However beautiful the strategy (process), you should occasionally look at the results.”

Winston Churchill

Process is important to make sure of the complete vetting of an issue and ensure that the execution of the final decision is orderly and efficient. However the goal of the process is to arrive at a plan of action to address the issue—an outcome.

Prepare to be amazed when you question some aspect of the process and you can’t get an explanation as to why it is done that way. A recent example-- a state agency has three different departments looking into their own procurement policy to determine whether conducting interviews by conference call is legal. With no explanation ever given as to why interviews had to be done face to face in the first place.

One of the biggest challenges you will face in government is the process. Do not accept the response of either, “I don’t know,” or “No, you can’t do that.” These are statements not answers. If you cannot get a logical answer for why something is done it is time for a change.

In the aforementioned example we wrote up and adopted our own procurement policy. We streamlined the process so we could better achieve the desired outcomes.

6. Start with all options then narrow them down--

“We must dare to think the ‘unthinkable’ thoughts. We must learn to explore all the options and possibilities that confront us in a complex and rapidly changing world.”

J. William Fulbright

Never begin a discussion focusing on what you cannot do. Always begin the discussion by focusing on all the different ways you can accomplish your goal. Every option must begin on the table and no option is ultimately taken off the table without a valid reason.

The most common reasons given for not considering a particular option are political, or process issues. Both are transient reasons that can change or be altered and as such should not be considered the sole reason for elimination of a particular option. The amount of effort or resources needed to make changes is a valid consideration.

While you must understand and consider the current political/governmental dynamic do not be boxed in by it from the start. Sometimes changes are needed to, “business as usual” if you are to achieve the outcome you want. You won’t see those needed changes if you accept the limits as initially presented to you.

7. It will not work without staff support--

“Only fools learn from experience. I prefer to learn from the experiences of others.”

Otto Von Bismarck

The first kick in the reality you receive upon entering elective office is that all the great and innovative ideas you brought with you to bring about the second renaissance of your community are not new. After coming to the rather sobering realization that you are not the next Washington or Lincoln you ask--Who had brought them up before and why weren’t they acted on? And your journey begins……

Staff not only has the answer to your questions they have intimate knowledge of how the system works and in the end will have to take the decisions made and turn them into action. If you expect to get anything done the relationship you established with staff is of critical importance. It is also important to remember that while staff has the institutional knowledge and expertise you need, how it is put to use ultimately rests with you.

Before you bring a proposal forward get staff input, not necessarily staff approval. If they have issues discuss them. If they say something can’t be done ask for another approach. If they have a better approach consider it. To have these types of discussions requires a relationship with staff where they feel comfortable that their criticisms will be taken as intended—to assist you in getting the result you are looking for and lay the groundwork for implementation.

8. Important Asset--The community--

“I’m not the smartest fellow in the world, but I sure can pick smart colleagues.”

FDR

You do not have the knowledge or the ability to make informed decisions on your own. Fortunately there is a wealth of information and expertise within the community on which to draw. Seek out people who can help you with an issue and don’t be afraid of using the phrases, “I don’t know,” or, “I don’t understand.”

By bringing in as much community input as possible you not only gain valuable input you also gain community buy in, or at least understanding, of your position on an issue.

9. The press is an important part of the process--.

“The smarter the journalists are, the better off society is. [For} to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves-and the better the teacher, the better the student body.”

Warren Buffett

There is a dedicated group of people who follow the deliberations of local government but most residents’ understanding of local government comes from what they read in the local paper or hear on the radio. It is imperative to work as closely as possible with the local press to ensure that constituents fully understand the issue at hand.

Every elected official has that moment after reading or hearing a news story where they question whether they and the local reporter were attending the same meeting. We must accept some of the responsibility for this situation. Reporters are on a deadline and are usually hearing what you consider a well-reasoned and articulate discourse on the issue of the day for the first time while having to deal with all the other well-reasoned articulate discourse from your colleagues—on multiple issues.

If you want to get your point across you need to sit down with the reporter before the meeting to discuss the issue and make yourself available for any follow-up questions. If your comments are as well reasoned and articulate as you think then you should submit them as an OpEd.

10. You will be frustrated--

“Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.”

Edmund Burke

You will have days when you send e-mails out like this one, on the issue of transportation--

“I've been reading John Coski's book on the history of the Confederate battle flag from its inception to today. I was struck by the debate going on in the Confederate Congress over the adoption of the "Third National" flag. In the end they decided to add a red vertical stripe on the end. This took place in March 1865! The world was crashing down around them and here they were debating a flag that was never going to fly! Here we are today watching a train wreck and all we can talk about is why we can't stop it from happening. We've come a long way since 1865--We don't ignore problems anymore we just talk about why we can't solve them.”

It is at times like these that you must remind yourself that some things take time and some issues will probably remain unresolved during your tenure as an elected official. That it will be others who succeed in bringing the issue to resolution. In the grand scheme of things you must resign yourself to playing only a small part in moving the issue towards final resolution and must be satisfied with that role.


But just because you do not have it within your power, or because the current dynamics conspire against you, is not a justification to do nothing. Frustration accentuates the importance of the issue and calls you to do all you can to move it closer to resolution
.

6 comments:

Russ said...

If the President Elect isn't already a regular reader, you might want to send him this.

Larry G said...

A leader is someone who leads the folks who elected him in the direction that they want to go and important to recognize that a leader cannot be an effective leader is he/she is or becomes "un-elected".

It's called politics.

;-)

So.. if folks are not aligned into a clear majority on an issue... and there is controversy and strong opposing opinions.. then the value of a leader becomes apparent.

At that point, getting lots of feedback and clearly and deeply understanding the divisions and the wants of citizens is a good thing...and cannot hurt in arriving at a decision...

Those of us not in the city could hope that our own elected aspire to do the things that Matt does in pursuit of decision-making.

Muttley said...

Too bad your commentary isn't as succinct as your quotes.

MATT KELLY said...

Muttley—It’s the curse of the Irish.

Let’s turn your statement around. We just elected a president who ran a campaign centered on, “Change.” When asked to be more specific we got the phrase, “Change for the Better.” On the other side of the isle we get, “No new taxes.” None of these phrases explain what is to be done or provide a vision of where we are going. Sound bite politics is what we now have--Catch phrases and sound bites of 25 words or less with little substance. When you talk about being succinct are you stating that you agree with this approach? Is this what we should expect? Was my comment brief enough?

Muttley said...

More blarney.

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