Constructive criticism offered for Victoria City Council
By Mark Loffgren - Guest Column
Aug. 9, 2017 at 5:42 p.m.
Updated Aug. 10, 2017 at 6 a.m.
I have attended almost every meeting of the City Council for the last five years. I would like all government to be better at delivering services. The City staff and the City Council work hard and do a good job. I believe that praise, while making people feel better, doesn't necessarily make them better at their jobs. Constructive criticism has a much better impact in changing people's behavior and actions. Feedback that makes one uncomfortable, if listened to and accepted, can result in change that matters.
The following are things the City Council could improve and expect from City staff:
• Measure what you do and make it public. To demonstrate greater accountability and transparency, all departments should have performance measurements with goals that appear in the budget. Performance measurements with goals create a more accountable government, improve performance, stimulate creativity and productivity and would help improve the budget process.
• Accountability appears to be difficult for the council members. I have asked several council members in the past, "Why don't you ask more questions of staff?" These are some of the answers I've received: "I don't want to appear stupid." "Too many question slow up the process." "I get many questions asked and answered by staff before the meetings." The following are examples of questions that might be asked at a meeting: "What is your department doing to lower its cost of operation?" "Police response times have increased dramatically over the last year. What are you doing to decrease response times?" "The development department has had very few permits this year. Should we have fewer people in that department? What are they doing with their time?"
• Planning is not long term. The capital improvement plan is five years. Much of the city's infrastructure lasts 30-plus years, especially streets. Shouldn't we have an idea what our real capital needs are so that we can plan and prepare financially?
• Vision and leadership are not a wish list. It is measuring what you do, holding yourself and those responsible accountable. It is planning long-term with costs and timeframes for implementation. It is letting the City staff know your expectations. It is being proactive. It is communicating to city residents about how you are improving existing services. What is the vision to improve existing neighborhoods? What is the vision for sidewalks and bike lanes? Is a street plan that is based on growth and borrowing really working? Are you revisiting the street maintenance plan and improving the process? Is borrowing and running up a large debt that future taxpayers will have to pay to be continued? I could go on.
• Make hard decisions and ask hard questions. There are many tough decisions, but let me discuss just two. Adding two police officers seems like a simple decision. Who doesn't want more police officers? I think we need more police. It is the politically correct thing to support. However, shouldn't questions be asked before raising taxes and budgeting for two more police officers and their supporting equipment? Has the police department had a full staff this year? Not that I am aware. They presently have six vacancies. How will we fill the two new budgeted positions when we haven't yet had a full staff? Shouldn't questions be asked and answered before we raise taxes? We spent a million dollars to refurbish the streets in Woodway and Bridle Ridge. It made the streets worse, and now these subdivisions are scheduled for a complete redo at much higher costs - pushing other subdivision projects out to the future. Was anyone held responsible?
The City Council has a tough, thankless job. I sincerely thank them for what they do, and I hope they think about these observations and act upon them.
Mark Loffgren is retired, having worked for H-E-B as a store director for almost 25 years. He has lived in Victoria for 31 years.