If you wait for opposition to form and come to you, there are two things you can count on: It will…and you may not like the results.
Many readers have concerns with the changes they are experiencing, not only in how they do their jobs but how they view their roles. “The council had already decided on the contract before I presented our staff report,” a municipal health services director in charge of solid waste lamented after he watched a month of hard work and sincere belief get blown out of the tub when the contract was awarded to his third-ranked bidder. “They didn’t give our recommendations the time of day.”
A public works director was upset when, after first supporting the staff’s position, county officials bowed to public pressure on a siting matter and reversed their previous decision, throwing the project back in his lap. “We [staff] recommended one site. They agreed with our determination without much discussion. What chaps me is that at the first sign of opposition, they bailed out, making my department looking pretty silly.” It wasn’t until several breaths later that he conceded that the project—a transfer station—was dead in the water until after last fall’s elections and now probably for good. “Too much politics ... too many lawyers ... too many experts,” was his explanation. “It takes the job right out of my hands.”
Few in MSW could question the truth of this indictment and none its seriousness and sincerity. Nor, if one takes a look at industry trends, would one wish to argue against the proposition that the situation plays into the hands of the large private service providers whose skill, focus, and muscle in political and legal areas often put MSW managers at a disadvantage.
This brings to mind a situation I encountered several years ago when I was a member of our local transit district board when we sought to consolidate our operations into a single, centrally located site. We had bought the land five years before—a 25-acre plot fronting a barren hillside—in the belief that the project had the approval of both the city council and county supervisors. But when we scheduled hearings, we found ourselves opposed by the unlikeliest of bedfellows, including a host of developers, affordable housing advocates, a group that had made its bones preventing improvements to the local transfer station, and eventually several members of the planning commission who had supported the project at the outset. In the end, we sold the property to an investment group and made improvements to our existing facilities, which are located 10 miles from one another.
Interestingly, the group that bought the property is still hung out to dry by the same people who sided with it during our hearings. Additionally, the present real estate bust has chopped any vestige of profitability right out of the project, leaving the transit district the only possible winner, since the sale took place at the top of the market.