Some sage advice from an old sage of journalism on how not to screw up the next water project.
Thursday, February 23, 2012
So you got yourself elected to the podunk water district and, all of a sudden, your district is now the center of a fancy new proposal. This is a huge thing, a water cure the entire region has been waiting for. It’s a win-win. Everybody’s on board. The PUC is calling the shots and it wants you as part of its team.
Even the stupid socialists at the daily newspaper support it. (Editor’s note: The alt-weekly in town is skeptical from the start, and calls out governance and ratepayer costs as immediate red flags. Ahem.)
Heady stuff, to be sure. When the project happens, your stature in the community will rise. You will be a player, a person of great influence. You will be treated like a kingpin, invited to all the right parties. Maybe they’ll even name a pump station in your honor.
You won’t want to blow it. I mean, jeez, how could anyone screw up something like this? It would take a first-rate jackass to botch this job.
Well, bad things can happen to good people. But I’m here to help.
I’m not a high-priced consultant. I’m not even a cut-rate consultant. But I consider myself a keen observer of political ineptitude and the wreckage that ensues when its practitioners are given too much leash.
So, in the spirit of community service, I’d like to offer some sage advice so you won’t follow in the footsteps of the Marina Coast Water District.
The following checklist is not complete, but it’s easy to follow and can save yourself the personal humiliation that will surely follow if you end up being the jackass who botched the job:
• Don’t be a dick. Arrogance may work for Barry Bonds, but remind yourself that you are only an elected official at the podunk water district.
• Don’t hire unneeded high-priced consultants. Don’t even hire cut-rate consultants.
• Find an attorney who will tell you what you’ll actually need to know, not what he/she thinks you want to hear.
• Don’t hire an executive who goes into retreat mode when the going gets tough.
• Just answer the damned questions already. If you so fervently wish to be a legitimate player in the community, be prepared to face the occasional uncomfortable question. Graciously answer the stupid questions.
• Treat the public with respect. See Item #1. You were elected to represent the public, not to treat it like something you scraped from the soles of your shoes. Also, know the difference between a crazy gadfly and a legitimate public citizen. Remember that there were days, before you were elected, when you were thought of as a crazy gadfly.
• Quit hiding stuff. If some random person is looking for a document, don’t wait for the Freedom of Information request or the lawsuit. It makes you look like you’re trying to hide something. And you will lose credibility when you’re forced to turn it over anyway.
• Don’t underestimate your opposition. They’re smarter than you are. They are likely to know regulation and policy better than you. Shrugging them off like they’re dithering idiots won’t stop them.
• When it comes to fellow board members, remember the Golden Rule. Democracy allows for disagreement, but petty political hijinx meant to discredit your opponent serves only to prove to skeptics that your agency really is a podunk operation that is dreadfully unprepared to handle big-time projects.
• When it all goes to hell, quit whining and stop blaming everybody else. Serious self-reflection is in order. If incapable of quiet contemplation, do your constituents a favor and get out of public service.
Former newspaper editor JOE LIVERNOIS now edits The Santa Lechuga Expectorator, which follows the mythical happenings of the imaginary radicchio capitol of the world at www.santalechuga.wordpress.com