There’s an old saying about changing one’s situation, that you won’t get out of a problem by using the same kind of thinking that got you into it in the first place. It’s a good lesson for cities too. When we look around Mount Vernon, all we see are “problems of the present” – not picking up the garbage, failing to pay bills, whining about conspiracies, etc. These are problems are plain and simple, the failings of leadership and the failure to properly plan. If we want to see a change in the way that Mount Vernon operates, we need to first change the thinking that got us into this mess.
My background is in construction. Nobody in that industry just launches out on their own and starts doing things for the sake of looking busy. You don’t start closing- up walls before you run the electrical and plumbing. You don’t start putting in windows before you’ve finished the frames. It sounds like common sense and it is. Because everything that occurs on a construction site is done pursuant to a very detailed plan, one that sets out the order of things. That’s how things get built. Take things out of order or forget things and that’s how things fall apart.
That’s the approach I’ve always taken to city government. But, amazingly enough, there are a lot of obstacles on the road to common-sense government. The first and most obvious obstacle is corruption and cronyism. I consider them together because they’re basically two sides of the same coin that produces the same result: decision-making that is in the best interest of someone’s pocketbook. You see it in obvious places like courtrooms, as high-ranking officials are indicted for looting the city’s coffers for personal benefit. But, it usually lives in harder to find places below the radar in places like the Water Department and the Industrial Development Agency. It goes on in the shadows behind the scenes. When you give political cronies special privileges disguised as PILOTs and zoning variances, you’re doing more than giving away taxpayer dollars; you’re undermining the foundation of the structure you’re trying to build, which is no different than building a skyscraper on shifting sand.
The other major obstacle in the way of common-sense government is incompetence. Not the kind that comes from people who are unintelligent, but the kind that comes from putting people in charge of problems who shouldn’t be there because they have no problem solving skills. They’re overwhelmed immediately and do one of two things: either they will do nothing, or they will do something and make the problem worse. So, both are equally terrible because, one ensures no progress can happen while the other takes you further back.
The final obstacle to common-sense government is failure to make a plan in the first place. A plan keeps everyone on the same page even the incompetent ones. A well-made plan broadcasts to everyone where they need to be when they need to be there and once there, what they need to do. A plan also lets people do what they do best. It keeps corruption and cronyism in check because the plan is a public document, one that has a lot of eyes on it. If your city plan is focused on enforcing code violations, then repeat offenders are going to be obvious unless corruption or incompetence gets in the way. Here’s the important point: if your goal is corruption, the single best way to accomplish that is to “not put forward a plan” and to stock your administration with incompetent people who will simply do nothing.
I’ve spent the better part of the last year trying to expose this corruption, cronyism, and incompetence. Sadly, it’s been nearly a full-time job because there’s so much of it.
I want to spend more time, however, addressing my plans for Mount Vernon’s future. I will be putting out some bold initiatives next week that are designed to give us a working and workable plan to succeed. My plans will set forth a framework, not just generic platitude like “we need a new vision” or “believe again”. I’m going to set forth a realistic plan that drives results so that we can all start building in the right order and goals in mind. We can start focusing on “opportunities of the future” rather than “problems of the present.”
I’ve been discussing my economic plan of Responsible Development over the past month or so in my columns, which you can access on www.andrewallace.com.
A lot of my fellow candidates have been reading them too, because they’re taking credit for a lot of my ideas lately. That’s fine. It’s what being a leader is all about. I want to see these plans come to fruition, so if others are jumping on the bandwagon, all the better.
I’ll keep putting my ideas out there because that’s how things will ultimately get done for Mount Vernon. Whether it’s a multi-pronged approach to attracting commercial development to Mount Vernon or a targeted attack on zombie homes and vacant properties in the city, the plans are there to guide policy development, implementation and execution. In short, they’re designed to solve problems.
What they’re not going to do is to deliver more of the same thinking that got us into this mess.