How to fix city council with one good mayor.

by Mark Zaugg 24. August 2010 23:12

This may yet be a daily opinion before the week is out.  I know I have at least one more day's worth of ideas to express. 
 
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I could have pre-written the question myself, "What have you got against Ric McIver?  What do you expect him to say?" 

Fundamentally, nothing I wrote yesterday is about Mr. McIver.  It was entirely about me and my realization that our city council has not and can not function successfully if it remains locked in a perpetual ideological split.  The mayor has to run that show. 

It is unacceptable for the inner city to point fingers at the suburbs and the suburbs to sneer back at the inner city and never come to an agreement.  It is unacceptable for the left to blame the right and the right to blame the left while we wallow in indecision and fallout.  It is unacceptable for bicyclists to always blame road woes on cars, and cars to always blame the problems on bikes while those people on the bus get away scot free.  It is unacceptable for city council to be locked into intransigent positions. 

City council's job is to find the best solutions to the problems in our city.  Not the perfect answer.  Just the best.  And that answer is not going to remain the best answer forever.  Another choice may prove to be a better idea as circumstances change. 


I have two basic axioms I rely upon for finding answers.

When faced with a question demanding a black or white answer, that decision needs to be immediately re-examined to ensure that only mutually exclusive choices remain.  Too often complicated issues are boiled down into binary options.  They rarely are the only choices available and they are almost never the best.

My other philosophy is that "Silver Platter Answers" (you know, the ones that just get handed to you on a plate) should never be trusted without examination.  Choices are hard, there are no short cuts and no easy ways out.


Those two fundamental beliefs explain why I do not accept that city council can perform it's job properly when it cannot work together.

Nobody is always right.  It doesn't make sense that imperfect people can find perfect solutions all the time.  That's why we are simply looking for the best solution we can find.  We can't have aldermen locked into a black and white view of the world because they're bound to be wrong some of the time.  Our issues can't always be about saving money or being more efficient.  Our traffic problems can't always be about bigger interchanges and super highways.  Our social problems can't all be a lack of funding all the time.  It isn't always going to be one way or the other.

A city council that is inflexible in it's views is not looking fairly at all the options available.  A city council that is paralyzed in opposition with each other gets caught up in the small battles and starts counting wins and losses instead of looking at what's best overall.

And an alderman that always lines up on the same side of an issue with his or her peers is accepting and then reissuing the Silver Platter Answers that do not require so much critical thinking.  No alternatives will suffice when you have framed everything into your personal ideology.

Good ideas just don't get heard when everyone pokes their fingers in their ears and screams, "LA-LA-LA LA-LAA."  

City council cannot keep itself in check when the same people are lining up on the same side of the hall time after time.  Bad ideas need to be tossed as well.  It's not supposed to be about siding with my friends time after time, it's supposed to be about fomenting the best ideas.  Where's the future planning coming from when everyone is around the table arguing with each other?  Who's asking the question, "Where are the competitive bids on this project?"


Today, let me use basement suites as my example.  Slapping a basement suite into every house that wanted one would have been a horrible idea.  Forbidding them outright isn't the best of plans either.  We have a real problem with affordable housing in this city and making some units available that were previously prohibited makes sense.

The biggest problem with basement suites is what, parking?  Perhaps too many of them get run down and you end up with an unappealing community?  But we want to encourage some.  Just not all or nothing.

So we set up parameters.  Separate entrance, safe living conditions, oh and only one every three properties, maximum of 20 in a neighbourhood.  That way no single neighbourhood will be swamped, but it's an option if there's a suitable home.  That's my proposal, throw it over the fence to be picked apart by the experts, then make a decision!  Ald. M. Royal sees no point to it, but suggests it would be fair because it applies city wide and suggests better wording that avoids problems from the last stab at a solution.  Ald. A.P. Plewood says the one in three rule is too restrictive because her houses are closer together.  We agree the overall plan is sound, and that Ald. Plewood's neighbourhood needs an exception of one ever four houses with a maximum of 22.

Is this pie in the sky stuff?  Forgive me if I'm being simplistic but that's my expectation of how city council needs to work.  Negotiate, share ideas, don't brush anything off because it doesn't affect you.

The mayor has to be in charge of this gong show and keep everyone on track.  Anyone who's going to get my support for mayor is going to have to show they have the willingness and ability to get city council functioning productively.  Every candidate is going to have to convince me they have a plan on how to make it happen.  What happened Sunday proved to me that I considered it the most important attribute of the next mayor and I was convinced my early favourite could NOT pull it off.

I don't care how sound your ideas or your platform are, if you can't keep council functioning productively you will not be able to implement your platform.


I will vote for whomever I feel will do the best job.  The winner of the election will be my representative whether or not I voted for him or her. 

I expect my representatives to temper their personal views because they don't have universal support.  I don't want my mayor and alderman Pollyanna.  I just don't want them to be closed minded and factional.

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My parting shot is to answer the question above.  I wish Ric McIver the very best of luck and hope he performs admirably if elected.  He doesn't owe me any reply and I'd think him foolish if he offered a rebuttal.  But if he did, I hope it would be, "Screw off, I wanted to go to Race City instead.  You made a good point about alternative transportation and the festival, though."

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