LOCAL VOICES: Gotcha! Now let's try something that works

By BOB and RUTH HAAG, management consultants and former city consultants We are all distressed
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

By BOBĀ and RUTH HAAG, management consultants and former city consultants

We are all distressed with our city government (well, O.K., many of us are distressed). So, we have been complaining. Ruth has a standard question she asks her management trainees when they are frustrated by repeated attempts at the same solution. She asks them: "How's that working for you?"

We don't think that complaining is working.

When Ruth addressed the City Commission last spring, she noted that the decision-making process used in our city government has some folks playing a game of "Stump the Commission," while others are playing a concurrent game of "Gotcha!"

Lately, the game has become "Stump the Public" versus "Gotcha!" This cycle of opposition is consuming most of the efforts of some of the best minds in the City of Sandusky. While it is entertaining, we think that we would make more progress, together, if we could stop playing these games.

With that in mind, let's look at the elements of both games, which come into play when a decision needs to be made by our City government. On the "Stump-the-Public" side, these tools are used:

-- Limit input into public processes by holding meetings to which only the "right people" are invited; then say, "Staff decided ..." or "We are doing what we think is best ..."

-- Keep controversial topics off the Commission Agenda, which is widely available, by introducing them through New/Old Business, or as walk-in legislation

-- Limit the opportunity for public scrutiny, debate and referendum by asking Commission to approve everything on a "Charter Section 14" basis (i.e., immediately and without recourse)

-- Keep everyone confused by making frequent mid-course changes

-- Keep everyone confused by providing complex explanations

-- Keep everyone confused with untruthful statements that are difficult to verify

-- Ask the commission to rubber-stamp changes that are already complete

-- Implement something other than what Commission approves, thus defusing their decisions

-- Dismiss complaints and questions by saying, "It's done. Let's move on."

-- Proclaim that media coverage is "negative" and "one-sided" when caught

On the "Gotcha!" side of this game, the players use the following tools:

-- Watch who meets with whom, and where

-- Notice who is related, by family or associations

-- Try to get invited to meetings

-- Try to detect untrue statements, then try to find proof

-- Search for public records that might show who knew what, and when

-- Follow the money in city transactions

-- Complain by lecturing the commission, trying to point out problems

This approach isn't working very well.

We believe that the game of "Gotcha!" would go away if we could eliminate "Stump-the-Public." If we could replace these games with a culture of inclusiveness, our city government could actually be fun for the participants, and well, boring for the media.

We fear that a clean sweep of our government will be needed in order to stamp out the "Stump-the-Public" game. Whoever replaces those currently in power will need to guard against the urge to start up the same games. We all know what they say about absolute power.

We could accomplish so much with an inclusive government, getting Sandusky's best minds to collaborate in solving our problems.

Many of us are not having any fun right now. If we cannot end "Stump-the-Public" then we will need to find more fun in playing "Gotcha!" and forget about trying to make any progress together.

Let's go for something new in November, and see how that works for us.

Are you in?