Monday, August 18, 2008

On Decision Making: Remembering a Colleague

Back in August of 2006, the so-called '10th Street Parking Issue' had become so disproportionately elevated in importance, that it that defied logic or good sense.
I thought is was a Lilliputian pretending to be Gulliver, but maybe that was just me.

But such things have been known to happen, and during that time frame it is likely that this particular 'issue' was influenced by other, more substantial debates on the subjects of the City's Parks, Recreation & Open Space Plan, the Greenways 3 debate, and the protracted discussion of the City's Comprehensive Plan Land Supply Methodology.
Of course, the '07 local elections were already being discussed, too!

Ah yes, those were interesting times!
I'm glad these issues are mostly behind us now, but are they ever really 'over'?
That is doubtful, especially the lasting memories and impressions.
My September 24, 2007 Blog captured most of those temporary impressions, but I like a particular lasting memory much better.

The memory that I especially treasure was knowing and working with former Council member Joan Beardsley, who was tragically taken from us in early 2007, after only a little over a year in office.
What a champion she was!
I think the 'St Joan' label that a local weekly paper bestowed on her, posthumously, was pretty accurate.
Joan herself, did admit one or two missteps, one being a statement she made at a Greenways Advisory Committee meeting which she came to regret deeply.
But, true to form, she promptly and bravely corrected that by making a public statement at the August 8 Council meeting.

I was so proud of her that I e-mailed her my thanks later that night.
Here's a short excerpt, plus a few words on the 10th Street 'issue':
Thank you for your courage in making your statement this afternoon and again tonight. I know it was not an easy thing to do to admit a mistake and try to correct it. But, you did exactly the right thing and I support you fully.

Regarding tonight's discussion on 10th Street, you again showed the sort of reasoned thinking and backbone that I most admire. I believe this one little episode served as a real learning experience on how genuine concerns can be elevated and expanded to outlandish, entrenched positions, and the power of pressure exerted in just the right ways to influence what should have been a rather routine decision. It would be an overstatement to call this a clear case of micro-management, because some legitimate issues were thoroughly discussed and a number of good ideas presented that would have otherwise gone unheard.

Before that night had passed, I received her reply, in part quoted below:
John, I have printed this message to save in my "when I need to check my path" folder. You are most kind to have helped me and to give me this encouragement.
I also appreciated how Joan helped me by not minimizing the implications of what I had said. She was a good friend in the real sense and you have been also.

I want you to know that I also printed out that list of "principles" you sent me that you use in making good judgments. I used them as I analyzed what I thought best for my decision last night on 10th St.

I hope you feel proud to be able to share some of the wisdom you have gained in this job. No matter what the issue or how we both end up voting, I know you are doing the thing you think best for the best reason. Now that I am doing this work with you, I can see that one can't really anticipate the demands that it entails. It is true public service. I have always wanted to do that since I read a biography of John Adams in which he and Louisa spoke of their conviction that our country's future would require each person who could to do a term of public service. They didn't make a lot of it - it was a natural thing to give if you had the where-with-all to give it. Since I was not military oriented and didn't have to serve that way, I have always felt I wanted to respond in John Adams fashion if I had the chance. It is not a political aspiration; it is a desire that flows from my gratitude for the life my country and community has helped provide me.
I suspect we are on the same wavelength on this sense of commitment. It prevents this experience from being an exercise in ego because it requires disciplining ego to truly find the path to doing right service. But thinking clearly and wisely is hard, despite commitment to it; otherwise, our country wouldn't be in the mess it is! I am so grateful to have you for a colleague as we both try to do this work for the city we love.
Here is the excerpt, to Council Member Beardsley refers, above:
I do appreciate your struggles in attempting to come to a right decision, because that demonstrates you are trying to examine all aspects of this discussion, which has now become an issue. How refreshing! That is also what elected officials are supposed to do and no one can ask for more.

There is no set protocol or rule book with rigid criteria to guide us, and if there were it would be impossible to enforce.

Some of the general principles I have decided to follow -regardless of issue- are these:
• whether decisions are legal
• whether they are fair and consistent with policy and past precedents
• whether they reasonably comport with the process that developed them
• whether the decision is really my [Council's] responsibility
• whether arguments to overturn or change are factual or political
• whether new precedents will be set that will be difficult to sustain
• whether our professional staff supports specific options, and why
• whether the greatest possible community wide benefit is assured
• whether I have done sufficient homework to understand the rationale and reasonable options
• whether my decision honors the recommendations of the volunteer boards and commissions responsible for reviews and recommendations
• whether any adverse unintended consequences may result
• whether decisions are made in sunshine, with reasonable public involvement
• whether public funds are wisely used and benefits outweigh the costs
• whether conflict of interest or appearance of fairness violations may result, or perceptions of same

Note that none of these allow me much room for subjective whim or opinion, autocratic authority, or populism. None of these are things are sustainable, because voters and taxpayers rightfully expect consistently better justifications.
Joan Beardsley is no longer physically with us, but her spirit lives!
May our memory of that wonderful spirit help guide us in consistently making right decisions, no matter how 'important' they may be!