Back in “the day,” Bill Hudnut used to make speeches about the importance of being a city that worked. The basic message was simple: we can’t do the big things if we can’t get the day-to-day mechanics right. The first order of business for any public manager is to ensure that public services are being delivered properly and the public’s business is being handled prudently.
If Bill was right–and I believe he was–then all I can say is “Houston, We Have a Problem.”
According to news reports, Mayor Ballard and 100 “city leaders” are leaving on a trade mission to Germany. And the City is putting together another SuperBowl bid. (Let’s just ignore that 6 million dollar cricket field…) Big things, check.
But how are we doing with the humdrum everyday stuff? How is that “city that works” thing going?
Is the public’s business being handled properly? Paul Ogden has the truly jaw-dropping details of a lease between the City and a campaign contributor for an uninhabitable Regional Operations Center that wouldn’t pass the smell test of a first-year law student. I spent 17 years practicing real estate law, and I have never seen anything remotely that egregious. Either the lease was the result of corruption, or it was negotiated by the most incompetent lawyer in central Indiana. Either way, it represented a colossal waste of ever-more-scarce tax dollars.
How about those public services? My commute from my home in downtown Indianapolis to IUPUI is about a mile and a half. Usually, it takes 5-8 minutes, depending upon the time of day. But for the past several weeks, it has taken nearly half an hour. Traffic has been bumper to bumper, thanks to poorly managed street repair projects and (evidently unregulated and unsupervised) private construction that has brought traffic on some of our busiest downtown streets to a virtual standstill. Some congestion is obviously inescapable, but it is clear that much of it is a result of poor–or nonexistent–management. The resulting mess increases drive time, air pollution and frayed nerves.
The city isn’t the only inept manager of local construction projects, of course. The state has closed I65 and the downtown split, in order to raise bridges that keep getting damaged because trucks keep hitting them. Barely ten years ago, the much-ballyhood “Hyperfix” shut down those same portions of the interstates, so that multiple repairs could be made. For reasons that have never been explained, the Hyperfix project didn’t include work to raise the bridges–and this isn’t a new problem.
What’s the old saying? There’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it over?
Managing curb and sidewalk construction, ensuring that highways are safe, vetting contracts to ensure that taxpayers aren’t getting ripped off–these and many other municipal tasks aren’t glamorous. But they’re necessary and important. They are essential elements of a city that works.
You’ve gotta drive to the airport if you’re going to fly to exotic places on that junket. The fifteen people in Indy who play cricket need to drive to the game.
And eventually, if you keep flushing tax dollars down friends’ toilets, there won’t be any left.