Sunday, January 12, 2014

Maintaining Perspective

One of the trickiest things to do as a councillor is maintaining one's perspective.  As the saying goes, all politics is local, and part of representing a ward, and the people who elected you, is to respond to these local complaints.  At the same time, we have to think of the city as a whole, and sometimes that means putting specific issues in your own ward at a lower priority.

It can be a tricky balancing act.  When someone is calling, demanding that their street be plowed after a heavy snowstorm, it's tempting to think that your neighbourhood should get priority.  That's one of the reasons why truly high priority streets have been identified to see the first action of the plows, and residential neighbourhoods are dealt with later, and according to a schedule that varies so that each neighbourhood has a turn at being first.  This is an issue that I'm quite comfortable leaving with city staff to deal with, rather than suggesting to them why Ward 3 streets should be at the top of the list.

Street sweeping, on the other hand, is more of a situation where certain neighbourhoods should be dealt with before others, on a consistent basis.  This is one of those "what's best for the city as a whole" situations.  Older neighbourhoods, with more trees, and areas with more pedestrian traffic, are likely to have a greater need for sweeping, and should be higher on the priority list than newer neighbourhoods.  This puts the whole city on a more level playing field.

I'm not talking about not bringing up emergency situations - if I see a tree limb that looks at though the next wind will bring it down, I'll call administration right away to let them know, to help prevent a possible accident that could cause serious property damage or worse.  But for things that are just annoying, or in situations where city crews can't be everywhere at once, I'm quite comfortable with letting administration follow the procedures that they have established, and tell people that sometimes, we just have to be patient.

Details are important, and we can't forget to consider them - heaven knows I've spent enough time poring over detailed budget and spending reports to understand that.  But when it comes to keeping the city going, it's important to remember that the job of directing those details is outside the scope of council - it's operational, and our job is setting direction, and trusting staff to figure out how to follow that direction.

Demanding instant action with every phone call - well, that's a recipe for not getting anything done, for riding madly off in all directions, as Stephen Leacock would say.  Progress is our goal, not instant gratification.

"The big picture shows it's the little things that keep everything together." - Gee Linder


Rudy Swanson said...

Yep. It's the seemingly mundane and standard, such as street maintenance, that will serve as fulcrum with which to balance the pros and cons of policies and actions, since it is at that level where their impacts and merits are felt. Might as well get that aspect covered then. And whether you might have to haggle over budget and personnel in various issues of the importance of street sweeping, you will have to deliver on good schedule and equipment. That is final and is non-negotiable. It should be an opportunity then, to reach out to particular area of governance and bring out the equipment that will do the job comprehensively, and on a wider and more encompassing scale.


Alison Norman said...

This is a very insightful post about maintaining the cleanliness and orderliness of neighborhoods and towns. The cleanliness of a specific locality should just rely entirely upon the administration’s actions, but it should also be acted upon by the local neighborhood. For example, street cleaning should not only be done by the government, as it should be cooperation between the administration and the townspeople, for then will it produce a better result in cleaning the streets and roads around the neighborhood.

Alison Norman @ PowerBoss