I was hanging around with some grumpy old men recently. You know, just drinking coffee and complaining about everything, as grumpy old men will. We mostly stayed away from talking about our various bodily functions. We’re not quite that old, as a group.
We did come to agreement on a few things, though, that I think are worthy of consideration – even if you’re not grumpy or old. We call them common sense. In grumpy old man parlance, common sense means we decided and further discussion will only serve to make us more certain of our decision unless you have verifiable facts we don’t already know.
- If you’re spending other peoples’ money in large quantities, there are steps that need to be followed. If you can’t follow those simple steps, maybe you’re the wrong person for the job.
- The first step is to identify a problem before looking for a solution. Let’s say hypothetically, you’re wanting to put a traffic revision someplace where there are no significant traffic issues not involving trains. That would be a solution without a problem. Let’s strain the hypothesis to the absurd degree that the revision proposed is a roundabout that will require sacrifices from local landowners, impacts on local businesses in the near term, regulatory issues –and will cause more traffic problems than it solves. Keep in mind the problems it solves are statistically about zero. That would be beyond dumb, but it illustrates the point.
- Once you’ve decided you have a problem look at possible solutions. Given that the local economy hasn’t improved in a few years, it’s best to look at inexpensive solutions. Let’s just imagine that the entrance to town from the highway is less attractive than we want it. We want to attract people to spend their money here. There are inexpensive options. Social media is almost free. Montesano could have a Facebook page with a positive spin on all things Monte. Parks, recreation, restaurants, night life, other local business could all get a boost from that. For a modest fee important posts can be boosted to expand how many people see them. Spending a large sum of other peoples’ money to build something nobody sees until they’re already off the highway would be silly.
- Once you’ve decided that you have some valid options, each option needs a cost-benefit analysis. We do those all the time when we’re spending our own money. It means, “Will that be worth the money, or is there a cheaper way? Do I even need that?” In a city planning setting, you do it a bit more formally. After all, it’s other peoples’ money you’re spending. Those people have a right to know you’re thinking things through and doing the smart thing with their hard-earned dollars.
- Finally, make sure the people whose money you’re spending have access to the decision process if they want it. Post an explanation of the problem and solicit ideas for solutions. Landscaping might make the entrance prettier. Getting rid of unused railroad tracks might make it better. The cost-benefit analysis should be easily available – maybe on the city’s website with the URL posted in the local newspaper or city Facebook page– so people could read it and ask questions. A city council meeting to discuss the options should have the city council all there and be called to order. In short, treat the people who elected you as your employers instead of your subjects.
We talked about some other stuff, but mostly that. After we all had about four cups of coffee, everybody started excusing themselves from the table for one reason and another and the gathering sort of disintegrated.
We’ll probably gather again soon to discuss that stuff again. Stubborn grumpy old men are fun to hang out with if you are one or want to be one someday.