Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Need for Consistency

I'm continually surprised by the lack of consistency in the way that the city applies its various rules and regulations.  It's as though we think that people won't notice the differences in the way things are done, and ask questions.  As an example, apartment buildings are required to have their own commercial dumpsters.  However, the three apartment buildings across the alley from my house were allowed to use the large city dumpsters in the alleyway since the city first moved to that type of garbage pick-up - we're talking several years of having this benefit.  When council moved to have this block go to individual bins rather than the communal bins, one of the delays was apparently because administration was concerned about the change for the apartment buildings, overlooking the lack of consistency with the rules that had been allowed to go on for years.

Another example, from the recent snowfall.  Before the plows go out to a neighbourhood, the city posts no parking signs, so that the plows can clear the street without leaving those awkward piles of snow in the middle of the street caused by having to go around the cars left by the thoughtless or those unable to read.  We've had several years of pushing for ticketing and towing, with limited success.  This year we announced that we were serious, ticketing would happen.  It's a step, although I think that towing makes a better point, and I know that in past years some vehicles have been towed.  But I was surprised to find out that when the plows were going through my neighbourhood, cars left on some streets were ticketed, but cars left on other streets were not ticketed.  I don't know why, and neither did the people who called me to find out why they had received a ticket when others who had committed the same offence were left untouched.

So what message are we sending with this inconsistency?  Well, one is that we're not really serious when we put out no parking signs - you might want to gamble and leave your car out, since enforcement is pretty hit and miss, and towing appears to not happen, judging by the piles of snow left by having the plows go around parked cars.  We also send the message that we're great at talking the big talk, but not so good at actual follow-up.  I find it funny that some councillors will talk tough at council, but when it comes to taking action, they back off, and privately mutter that "after all, it's an election year."

What's the solution?  Two things need to happen.  First, before we make bylaws, let's be sure that we have the intestinal fortitude to enforce them.  Second, administration needs to realize that enforcement isn't something that is done when you're in the mood, or when you have a grudge against the potential recipient, or when you figure that the recipient won't kick up a fuss - it's something that you apply consistently.   When this happens, less enforcement will be needed, because people will realize, for example, that when they don't pay their parking tickets, they will lose their vehicle.  I'm thinking that last week's action on a few of the worst offenders will scare more than a few offenders into paying what they owe.

And then we can  move on to expecting consistency in the way the city follows its own rules.  Businesses in the downtown are required to clear their walks within twenty-four hours of a snowfall - most get on it much quicker.  But when Andrea and I walked downtown on Saturday afternoon, nothing had been done on the walks in front of  and beside city hall, so we walked on the other side of the street.  Even though the Forest Centre was closed, the walks had been cleared.  Now, before you start complaining that clearing sidewalks on a weekend would cost extra overtime, let's think of the options.  If we're serious about making the downtown accessible and attractive, maybe it's time to move to contracting out this work, as the Forest Centre does.

Learning how to be consistent between what we say and what we do, no matter who we're dealing with or where in the city we are, has the potential to improve all kinds of things in our city.

"Success is neither magical nor mysterious.  Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying basic fundamentals." - Jim Rohn

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Changes at City Hall

The first week of the new year brought with it a surprise for many people - both the director and assistant director of finance at City Hall were let go.  I can't speak for every member of city council, but I'm reasonably sure that for most of us, we didn't see this coming.  I'm also aware that hiring and firing of staff is not the responsibility of council, except for the city manager - that's the only position that directly reports to council.  The city manager is responsible for the overall functioning of the city, and if he determined that this was the best solution, not just for administration, but for council and the city as a whole, then that was his decision to make.

I think that part of why I and others on council were so surprised by this, is because we just finished going through the main budget process, which appeared to go well by all accounts, and two of the people most responsible for this are now gone.  And we're not done the budget process - we still have to look at the sanitation budget, and have already had tomorrow's meeting to discuss that budget postponed.  Great - now we have to wait for someone else to get up to speed before we can get on with city business.

We're also the victim of the usual misconceptions and rumours - council is being blamed, by some of the usual opinionated yet misinformed anonymous individuals on the internet who would be so much better on council than the current incumbents (at least in their opinions) for taking this precipitous action that most of us found out about at the same time as everybody else.

So if this decision was not council's to make, what do I think could have been done differently?

Well, for starters, things work most smoothly if council and administration consider themselves as part of the same team, and in the interests of working as a team, letting us know that there were problems would have been a good start.  Perhaps it would have been an opportunity to discuss the various options that were out there - I've found that often other solutions come up during discussions that wouldn't be considered otherwise - as the old saying has it, none of us is as smart as all of us.  And I think that we might have suggested that, at this point in the budgeting process, the timing for losing experienced staff and bringing on relative newcomers with much more limited experience was not the best.

And I think that most council members would agree that we don't appreciate being blindsided by a decision that not only has serious financial implications, but that also affects workplace morale and functioning.  Knowing ahead of time would have given us the opportunity to process the information, and develop a plan for moving forward.  Now we're left trying to figure it out as we go along, and that doesn't bode well for good decision-making either.

The decision has been made, though, and we are moving forward.  As part of the moving forward, I will be advocating strongly that we do a thorough search for the best possible replacements for those key positions.  Let's not just take the most expedient route.  Let's not rush into decisions that we may regret, and that may put us in the same position in the near future.

"Change is not progress." - H.L. Mencken