CARRY THE DONKEY

THE CONTRARIAN

Remember the fable of the Farmer and the Donkey? No?, OK, I will refresh your memory.

An old farmer and his young son load up the donkey with stuff to sell in town, and hit the road. The first critic they meet scoffs “look at those lazy bums, the donkey loaded to the ears, and they carry nothing”, so the farmer and his son transferred the load to their own backs.  Next critic “how silly, those people carry the load and the donkey does nothing, surely that young kid could ride”.  So the load is transferred to the dad, and the boy mounts the donkey.  Next critic “look at the selfish kid, riding while his dad walks and carries the load”.  So the dad, load and all, climbs on the poor donkey with the son.  Next critic “how cruel, those brutes could as well carry the donkey as burden the poor creature like that”.  So as they arrive in town, the boy is carrying the load, and the father is carrying the donkey.  Needless to say, they are a laughing stock.

Next chapter — Imagine you are hearing the Investor-Owner of a modern farm, preaching to the Superintendent/Manager in charge of operating that farm.

“Your feed-mixing department isn’t doing a very good job of mixing feed; the cat says there isn’t enough catnip in his ration”

“The dog says the cat isn’t doing a very good job, he saw three mice in the barn”

“Those cows should be better trained; they need to do a much neater job of eating the grass off that pasture”

“Maybe we need to do something about all those male animals letting it all hang out, so to speak, in public view”

“Those cow plops all over the place are unsightly and pollute the air, maybe we ought to look into putting diapers on the cows”

And so on, yata yata yata. The investor-owner badgers Staff by passing on uninformed criticism, and Staff ends up carrying the donkey, and maybe the farm goes broke.  Much better if the investor/owner was doing his own job, working on forward planning, setting goals, finding better marketing arrangements, cooperation with other farmers, experimenting with new crops, or just stayed out of the way.

Next chapter — Municipalities are too often like that farmer, in that everybody is a critic who is sure they know more about everything than municipal employees do. Classic example, “Look at that, there is one guy down in the hole working, and six guys standing around watching.” They don’t try to determine what is really going on, just criticize.  One guy is the safety man, mandated to be there by the province; one is the machine operator, stretching his legs waiting till he has to start digging again; one is the foreman, waiting to go for the parts or material needed once the problem is uncovered, one might be from the gas company or hydro or cable, just checking their stuff is OK, and two more are snoopy members of the public, holding up the job by engaging the workers in conversation.

More criticisms, “Streets should be wide enough to park on both sides without interfering with traffic”, or “Streets should be much narrower, don’t want and can’t afford all that extra pavement”

“Streets should be finished with a curb and storm sewers so we don’t have those unsightly roadside ditches in a residential neighbourhood” or “A simple road with a ditch on each side is all we really need”

“Instead of patching those potholes, they ought to repave the whole street” or “Why don’t they use the same construction as freeways, they take all that traffic for many years without getting potholes”

“In this day and age, all those unsightly telephone and hydro wires should be underground” or “We should not have any stop signs in residential areas, drivers are supposed to know who has the right-of-way”

And so on, opposing opinions on the same subject, ideas contrary to government regulations or technical realities, and so on. Of course citizens do notice things and come up with usable ideas, and the municipality must always listen, but they must be able to tell good sense from silliness.  Unfortunately sometimes silly criticisms get acted on.

Next chapter — In the Village Model of municipal government councillors are involved in day to day management as there is little or no municipal Staff.  It works because the individual councillors being directly involved in daily affairs know silly criticism when they see it. But as a municipality gets bigger, specialized Staff is needed to manage things, especially in today’s over-regulated world.  At some stage of growth a community needs to migrate to the City Model, where Councils job is leadership, forward plan, set budgets, goals, priorities and direction; relate to other governments; ‘market’ the community to others.  Leave daily Management to the Managers.

But too often, as municipalities grow, the Village Model persists and councillors still involve themselves in day to day management, but being too remote from the action they too often do not recognize uninformed, even silly criticism. Just like the farm example above, they make silly decisions comparable to putting diapers on the cows; they pile on unwarranted criticism and make their staff ‘carry the donkey’.  I have seen many examples in our town and others in my 60 years or so of municipal work.

I am very optimistic that we now have a senior Staff of Dryden people, whose home and heart is here, and that we are seeing some forward thinking by Council. We need to encourage that leadership and vision. That makes it important we look seriously at what our candidates are saying, and that we all get out and vote.  We need to pay attention as to whether each candidate is focussed on the big picture, where are we going, rather than on details like diapers on the cows.  Focussed on planning the course the ship should follow, rather than steering by looking in the rear view mirror.  Focussed on the big picture, rather than micro-managing the crew.  We need leadership, not nostalgia.

Last chapter — Here are some thoughts about voting strategically, once you have decided who you want to be part of leading your city these next four years. If there are only one or a few individuals you really want to get elected, vote only for those individuals.  You do not have to vote for six, and voting only your favourites will give your vote more power (six times as much, if you only vote your favourite!).  Conversely, if there is one or a few you especially do not want to be elected, vote for 6 others to maximize your vote against that one.   But the real pitch is, get informed, and vote!!

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