We knew when we started the trash discussion back in October 2006 that we’d need to go slowly and be prepared to spend as much time as necessary to be sure the community understood why the City Council had asked the staff to explore the possiblity of converting from unmanaged to a managed trash service. 2 1/2 years later we’re still taking things slowly as we evaluate the pro’s and con’s of managed trash service but now we actually have real bid numbers to look at rather than best guesses or comparisons from other communities. With that in mind the City Council spent a couple of hours with some 15 to 25 interested Kent residents last week in Council Chambers to discuss the reasons and numbers behind this latest community improvement effort. We plan to hold another open forum for community members on the trash issue later this month but if you can’t make it here’s a few of the summary materials that will be discussed.
Change is never easy but when it comes to changing something like trash service you have to work really hard to keep misinformation from confusing people to the point where the idea isn’t able to get fair consideration. I consider it the job of staff to help City Council and the community give ideas a fair shake. If we’re serious about progess we’ve got to be able to sit across a table and debate the merits of different initiatives, especially when it comes to emotionally charged issues where personal perspective can weigh heavily on outcomes.
The staff is tasked with framing discussions with facts so that the Council and community at large can make informed, educated decisions about tough issues. There’s no prerequisite that we’ll all agree but we definitely can’t afford to be confused. Progress doesn’t happen by chance; it takes a lot of hard work followed by hard decisions that the majority of our community feels makes sense and promises the best chance of success. That’s easy to write about but really hard to practice in the context of daily life which is why we try to take it one day a time with our really hard choices.
There’s a great saying that the crisis of pluralism (our form of local democratic governance) is that it assumes logic and reason will prevail. Certainly in the profession of public service there are times when staff assessments lead to decisions that go exactly as planned and later everyone looks back and points proudly to the common sense solution.
But likewise, there are certain issues that seem to bring out the worst in all of us and in those cases it’s hard to get past personal bias to find room for community betterment. When you’re up against one of those issues you’re likely to hear people say that they won’t let facts stand in the way of their view of the right decision. Face it, when the facts support our position we love them, but when they don’t we suggest a bias in the numbers and dismiss their impact as more statistical mumbo jumbo.
John Lennon sang about giving peace a chance and I consider it our job as the City executive staff is to give reason a chance in the public realm. I’m sure you’ve got stories that make you shake your head and wonder how or why a community decided go one direction or another. Well I’ve seen some of those head shakers be born and it’s been my experience that 99 times out of 100 it’s not that someone had bad intent or the community wasn’t smart; it’s just that logic lost the battle.
There’s no guarantees in life and certainly the odds are stacked against you when you’re trying to get 27,000 people from diverse backgrounds and life conditions to see the same logic in something. Good luck with that. But that’s exactly what we have to try to do every day and that’s exactly what we’re trying to do with helping the community evaluate managed trash service.
The fact is the City staff have plenty on our to do list to keep busy without messing with trash service but we just can’t ignore the fact that in survey after survey residents consistently rank street conditions, quality of life in neighborhoods, being environmentally friendly and saving money the top priorities for Kent. On paper, managed trash service seems to do something to advance every one of those priorities — our job now is seeing how that shakes out in the real world.
Here’s a few of the materials that we shared last week:
And if you want to see more information on this topic go to our Managed Trash Service web page.
To view Gene Robert’s complete powerpoint presentation from last Wednesday night click here