CAN VALLEJO LEAD?

I once had an employer who was an excellent manager.  They had been with the company for many years, knew all the owner’s systems, took time to speak with every employee, never upset anyone, and pretty much mirrored what previous managers before them had done. It was one of the most stressful two years of my life. Change was unheard of. The same chicken dish that was placed on the menu 20 years before was still there. The menus were hard printed which, no doubt, reassured my boss as change was nearly impossible.  The only variable were the daily specials and that was left for the cooks to decide.  I remember watching that boss walk through the hot line, with tasting spoons, knowing full well they did not have any clue what the dishes should taste like. They were just going through the motions.  (It was at this point that I decided, if I were to continue in the restaurant business, that I would have to go to culinary school.) The thing missing though, that undefinable quality, that X factor of a true leader; was not present in this very good manager. That X factor, is the ability to take measured, thoughtful risks and it is what sets leaders apart.

I have found that I am attracted to the curious mind. The kind of mind that keeps asking questions. I especially like it when people look both forward and backwards and ask, how might things be better than they are right now?  A great thrill of mine is to stumble upon that random conversation which either breaks down, or gels, an opinion that has been rolling around inside my head trying to find its way out. I recently had just such a conversation the other day, sitting in Vallejo’s new parklet, with one of Vallejo’s thought leaders. Chatting about nothing and everything, our musings turned to Government versus Private sector management style. To me it comes down to the concept of Control versus Influence.  Let me provide an example: Here in Vallejo we recently passed an ordinance about the dumping of trash. Seems straightforward enough: You dump trash, we fine you and/or send you to jail. (Fear of loss is known to be 3 times the motivator than the possibility of gain.)   But here is where it falls apart for me.

  1. Vallejo spends 1 million dollars a year picking up trash.
  2. Recology gives each homeowner in Vallejo free bulk trash pickups. (Did you know this?)
  3. Recology will also give a limited number of bulk trash pickups to apartment dwellers. (I would bet that you did not know this.)
  4. My first lesson in Economics: Trash is an economic bad. One has to pay to take it away.
  5. Many of our neighbors do not have much money nor an access to a vehicle in order to take bulk items to the dumps.
  6. Vallejo’s free trash dump day on Mare Island has cars and trucks lined up for blocks.
  7. Logical Conclusion: Leave the trash on the street, the City workers (job security) will pick it up. (This option also removes the shame associated with not having enough money to take the trash to the dump.)
  8. Someone needs to witness this bad behavior and report it. No witness = an ineffective control.

What if? What if the City spent that million dollars working to influence good behavior rather than to control and punish bad behavior?  What if the City held free trash dumps on a monthly basis? What if they located these temporary dumpster sites in 4 to 6 places around town? What if it took some of that million dollars and offered jobs to whomever wanted to pick up trash throughout the City. I am not sure if you have noticed but the California Redemption Value (CRV) tax that each of us spends on bottles and cans is working. All of us have seen people collecting cans and bottles and turning them in for cash money. What if we did that for trash?  What if we used that million dollars to make it easier for people to do the right thing?  Dump the trash in appropriate places and pay them to go out and pick it up? 

Let’s compare styles:

The first: Write a law and punish, is an example of how Government seeks to control through the use of force.

The second: Reward good behavior, or at the least remove the shame of poverty, by making dumping free and accessible to those without the means to haul their own trash away and paying people to pick it up and bring it in. The CRV law influenced and rewarded good behavior; and helped clean up our streets too!

Follow up on this thought: If we are so keen on making laws, why don’t we require landlords to notify their tenants of their right to a free dumpster, and make them provide Recology’s information?  I personally have noticed that apartment dwellers seem to have more of a challenge managing the disposal of bulk items.

So here it is in a nutshell.  We have a City Manager’s office and the City Council.  The City Manager should be a good manager; the Council should lead.  Leading means taking risks. Thoughtful, measured risks. Leading relies on the ability to see problems where many perceive that none exist; and to make changes, no matter how uncomfortable that may be in the minute. Leading means taking the path less traveled and installing a parklet, solving a problem that no one else knew existed until the solution was present.

Dear City Council,

The budget before you mirrors budgets that you have seen before. There is no risk if you vote to keep it as it is presented. Neither is there growth. Nothing will change, if you choose not to change anything. We will never have the homeless services that our City, Police Department included, need unless you use the voice we gave you and change the budget. (By the way, new stimulus monies have been placed in the CDBG for homeless issues. These monies could fund the outreach and support services that both the Police Department and the Citizens of Vallejo want.)

In looking back and looking forward, I am reminded once again of what Winston Churchill said when asked to cut funding to the arts and social programs, “Then what are we fighting for?)

I ask each of you to be more than a good manager mirroring the motions of the leaders before. I ask you to use your voice to influence Vallejo’s future by creating an environment that reduces shame and influences good behavior rather than seeking to control. I ask you to fund for social services that support the mission of the police, but not for more police officers and equipment. I ask you to fund those things that keep Vallejo vibrant and unique.  I ask you to lead especially now that times are tough. I ask you to lead.

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

2 Replies to “CAN VALLEJO LEAD?”

  1. Well thought out and insightful. There are always opportunities in the middle of every crisis…we just need to create the “road less traveled…”

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