Sunday, March 20, 2016

Saying Yes and Saying No

Part of the job of being on City Council is making decisions.  Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes the answer is no.  Usually what happens is a proposal comes to council, through administration, for a decision.  It surprises me when some members of council see themselves as merely a rubber stamp for whatever administration has recommended.  We aren't.  We are responsible for taking the information they provide, reviewing it, and then making up our own minds.  That is because, ultimately, council is responsible for the decision, not administration.

Two good examples came forward this week that illustrate council taking the responsibility for its own decisions.

The first was the request from Humpty's Restaurant for a reduction in their taxes for this year, due to the fact that Second Avenue, where their business is, was under construction for the Big Dig, for almost four months, costing them a great deal of money.  This was the second summer that their business took a big hit - the summer that the bridge was closed was also costly for them.  I thought that their argument was reasonable; administration's recommendation was that we grant no concessions.

We are a council with a history of offering tax breaks and concessions to try to attract new business, but when it comes to giving a break to a business that has been in the community for several years, we become much less generous.  We bear some of the responsibility for the excessive time of the project, as we did not complete the work as quickly as we could.  It was only toward the end of the project that we started having crews work longer days.  I'm not sure why we didn't do this right from the start - at least once a week I would get a call or a comment from someone asking why we weren't taking advantage of the long summer days to get the work done faster.

While some members of council worried about setting a precedent, others were agreeable to putting a time limit for when such requests will be considered.  When it came time for the vote, the decision was unanimous, even though a couple of fence sitters didn't have the courage of their convictions to vote the way they said they felt - something that I don't understand.  In any case, we now have some structure around when we will consider similar cases - 100 days - and that should give administration some extra impetus to manage these projects more efficiently.

We said no, however, to a recommendation from the new housing committee.  They were asking for money to hire a consultant to make recommendations on how to deal with housing problems in the city.  The members on this committee are relatively new - I think that they've only met twice - and it might seem to them that the first thing to do was get some advice from consultants.  Housing is one of my major concerns, and has been in all the time that I've been on council, so why would I vote no on this?

Simple - we have housing reports from consultants (and staff) up the wazoo.  Why not pull some of those reports off the shelf and see what recommendations were made, then recommend some actions.  The problem is that it's much easier to get advice than it is to follow it, but some people feel that getting a report is taking action - it isn't.  It's like we spend all our time aiming, but never firing to see if we're actually anywhere close to the target.

So there's two examples of votes, and why I made the decisions that I made.  As a councillor, I'm responsible for reviewing the information provided, and the reasons for the recommendations.  But when it comes down to the final decision, my responsibility is to make the one that I think is best for the city, according to my judgement, not on what somebody else may think.

"Trust that when the answer is no, there's a better yes down the road." - Anonymous

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