Sunday, November 27, 2016

Findings from the Recount Process

I spent most of last Wednesday at the Court of Queen's Bench, participating in the recount process.  I had asked for the recount for a couple of reasons.  One was that the number of ballots considered as uncounted was greater than the difference in votes for Ward Three councillor; the other was the various concerns that I raised in my last posting that I wanted to be sure the City Clerk was aware of, and hopefully takes action on before the next election.  What I wasn't expecting was to find even more issues that should be taken care of.

The result wasn't the happy ending that I was hoping for, although the margin is now smaller, but I did think that it was a useful exercise in underlining the gaps in the process.  And people should be aware - the problems identified in the recount for Ward Three are probably similar all across the city.

Most of the ballots that were considered uncounted were unreadable by the electronic system.  What we found was that these ballots had been marked, but in the old-fashioned way, by people putting an X next to their preferred candidate.  Voting rules are that if the indication is clear, the vote must be counted, even if it wasn't marked as instructed.  Part of the problem is that people weren't instructed on the new, fill-in-the- blank oval system; part of the problem is that not everybody has the same literacy level so may not have been able to read the new instructions; and part of the problem is likely that someone who has been voting for many elections and wasn't informed of the new system would likely just continue doing it as they've always been doing.  In any case, far more detailed instructions for how to mark the ballot are essential, or else ballots should be counted by hand.  I didn't find the electronic system that much faster than hand counting on election night, so I'm not sure how much time was saved.

The judge overseeing the recount pointed out a number of security issues.  The number of ballots that came from the printer wasn't confirmed, unmarked ballots were left unsecured in boxes, the number of ballots sent to each poll wasn't confirmed, and possibly most worrisome, the deputy returning officer had pre-initialed a large number of ballots, essentially authorizing the validity of a vote on an unmarked ballot.  When asked why, the response was that it was done to save time.  One would hope that after the Mike Duffy trial pointed out the folly of authorizing something before it's actually done would have warned against this, but apparently not.  Saving time for workers should not be our main goal.  Our goal should be to have the vote count as accurate as possible, and to ensure that the process was fair for everyone - the voter as well as the candidates.  While I'm not suggesting that any wrong-doing took place, each of these errors is an opportunity for ballots to be marked after the process, and that isn't acceptable.

The result of the election is still the same, so why does this matter?  Well, I think that if someone takes the effort to go out and vote, their vote should be counted - it's that simple.  I also think that the new system works against the less fortunate in our city - those who already have fewer advantages than those who grew up writing exams electronically (like my kids).  It also works against seniors, another group in our city that deserves to have their voice heard.  We need to do everything possible to ensure that the voting playing field is level.

Having a transparent, fair voting system is the basis of democracy.  I've done what I can to raise the issues - let's just hope that the loopholes are tightened before the next election.

"It's not the voting that's democracy; it's the counting." - Tom Stoppard

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Voting Process - Are There Loopholes That Should be Closed?

As you may have noticed, the recent election was run differently than previous elections, due to changes in provincial legislation.  As with all new processes, these changes led to some confusion in the process, and may have left openings for voter fraud that were not intentional, but should be tightened before the next election rolls around.

The most noticeable difference was that there was no voters' list.  In previous elections, you may recall, the polling clerk had a list of voters eligible to vote in whichever poll area they resided within. The list was usually made up from the previous election, and you could always get added to it either before the election or at the polling station, provided that you had adequate identification. When you voted, the clerk used a ruler and pencil to cross you off the list.  Very low tech, but effective.  At the last election, all voters were required to provide voter identification, which helped to prevent someone walking in a claiming to be someone else, and voting in their place.

This time, with no voters' list, you had to fill out a form identifying yourself and your address, and sign it in front of the poll clerk.  The form was then put into an envelope, and not looked at again. I know, because I asked. Another change - this time you could vote at one of several polls - not just at an advance poll or the poll in your neighbourhood, but there were also two super polls.  And with no master list where your name is crossed off once you've voted, that's where the opportunity for slipping through a loophole is.

For instance, you could fill out the form, and vote at the advance poll.  There were several opportunities to do that, and nothing stopping you from voting more than once.  On election day itself, you could vote at the polls in your ward, if there were more than one, then drop in at each super poll and vote again.

When a friend of mine pointed this out to an election official the response was disappointing, if predictable - was the suggestion being made that people would cheat in an election?  I'm sure that most people won't, just as I'm sure that most people won't steal my car.  But I still lock my car, because there are those people who will, given the opportunity.

And the solution is simple - have a master voters' list, and cross off someone's name as soon as they vote.

Another issue occurred with poll clerks telling people that they lived in a different ward.  I've had more than one person tell me that they told the clerk what ward they were in, pointed on the map, and the clerk then told them that they lived in a different ward, and sent them there.  In these cases, the clerk was wrong, the individual was right, but assumed that the clerk's training was better than their own knowledge.  Which it wasn't.

And finally, the ballot itself.  For the first time, it wasn't using a pencil to make an X, it was filling out an oval by the appropriate name.  What wasn't communicated to all voters was that you had to use the pen provided at the polling station, not the one in your pocket.  I almost used the pen in my pocket, then thought that perhaps I should use the one provided, and I know that some people will automatically use their own pen as a way of avoiding germs.  This has led to an unusually high number of ballots being recorded as blank - hard to believe that someone would go to the trouble of going to a poll and then not voting.

I don't believe that any of these potential loopholes were intentional, but I know that the first time trying new processes, in this case several new tweaks to the system, is bound to show weaknesses that should be fixed.  I only hope that our elected officials review the processes, and close off the loopholes, before the next election.

"I wish I could shut up, but I can't, so I won't." - Desmond Tutu

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

After 16 years, I'm no longer representing Ward 3 on City Council.  I'm disappointed, of course.  It's like being fired.  It's as though some residents of Ward 3 said "It's not like you've done a bad job, we're just wanting a change."  Perhaps some thought that I'm past my best before date.  That's the thing about democracy - voters get to decide, which is how it should be.  I know that every defeated candidate feels that they had something valuable to offer.  And every candidate deserves kudos for being willing to put themselves out there, because as soon as you do, you become a target.

There are those who say that being on council is a thankless job.  They're wrong.  I'm quite gratified with the phone calls, emails and conversations I've had with people since last Wednesday, and before, saying thank you for my years of work, and recognizing that I always did  my best to remain true to what I see as the fundamentals of the job - standing up for the people who live in Ward 3, and trying to get more of the benefits for residents of the ward that other city residents take for granted - for example, it took seven years to get recyling bins for Ward 3, even though they were paying for them, but it finally happened.

I did have several people comment on how frustrating it must have been to deal with administration at times.  Where there are many good people at City Hall, I could never get a good explanation as to why my inquiries went unanswered for weeks, months, and in some cases years, when other members of council got much quicker service.  I could not seem to get across the message that these inquiries came from tax-payers who were having trouble getting answers, and that not answering my questions on their behalf was disrespectful to the people who pay the salaries of every individual at city hall.

Are there things that I won't miss?  Of course.  The petty politics that have nothing to do with the job would astound people I'm sure.  You would not believe how some members of council worry about where they sit in meetings - at times it seemed like kindergarten.  I won't miss pancake breakfasts - I don't like pancakes, but so many good initiatives in the community use these breakfasts as a way of increasing visibility and raising money, and as a councillor, you're invited to them all.  I won't miss the anonymous comments on local news websites -  for me, if you can't be bothered to contact me directly about your concerns, your contributions are just so much hot air.

I never minded being the only vote for or against a proposal.  My first time standing alone on a vote was in my first few months.  A group home for parolees, legal under the guidelines at the time, became an issue when neighbours found out, when a resident was accidentally dropped off at the wrong place.  The home had been in existence for more than two years with no problems, providing a service desperately needed in this community, but a council chamber full of emotional people was enough to sway the votes of everyone else.  I didn't get it, but the bylaw was soon amended, and we still turn down group home zoning if it's in the "wrong" neighbourhood - the most recent being a  home for high-school students that was turned down on the imaginary but politically correct reason of concerns about parking.  Thinking back on that original vote, how much would having secure, supervised housing for parolees help with crime rates?  You have new and returning members of council who talk about being concerned about crime in the city - will they take action, or just keep on talking.

Also in my first term on council I voted against third reading on a bylaw that would increase water rates.  That earned me a public dressing down from the mayor at the time, accusing me of costing the city money and ignoring the fact that according to the Cities Act, any member of council is free to vote against third reading of a bylaw in the first meeting.  It wasn't the last time a mayor tried to intimidate me through public shaming - fortunately I'm fairly familiar with the Cities Act, as all members of council should be (but aren't).  Sadly, council still piles increases into water bills, promising to review the proposed increases before they come to pass, but not doing so when the time comes.

I do have some suggestions for the new council - don't be afraid to stand up if you think that something stinks.  I got tired of hearing from other members of council that we should all vote together on contentious things, because then no individuals could be blamed.  Or that we should all vote together because we're a team, or because that's what the mayor wants.  As far as I'm concerned, if you see a problem, you're obligated to the people who elected you, not to covering the butts of the other people around the table, or who work for the city.  In fact, if you'll look around the room, you'll realize that none of your colleagues voted for you - they voted for themselves.

Your council colleagues are not your friends.  You should have civil relationships, but that doesn't mean that you're friends.  I'm lucky - after 16 years on council, I've had three colleagues whom I consider as friends.  Where you will make new friends is by meeting constituents through council work - I've been lucky that way too.

Stand up for what you think is right, and be ready to explain yourself.  I started this blog as a way of doing that, and I've received innumerable comments about how knowing more of the background was really helpful.

Ask the hard questions.  Too often members of council suggest that having something discussed in public might be embarrassing to individuals.  I'm sorry, embarrassment isn't one of the reasons in the Cities Act for keeping things confidential.  Again, your responsibility is to the residents of the city as a whole, and you won't be doing your job if you just let things slide, even though it might make meetings more pleasant.

Accomplishments that I'm proud of - I raised the issue of lead water service connections, and some improvement has happened.  You might not remember, but at the time other members of council called me a fear-monger, and suggested that we should wait until it was proven that lead in water was a health hazard.  Yes, sadly, there's no requirement for the mayor or councillors to be well-informed.  As I mentioned earlier, I got recycling bins in place across the city, although I wasn't done - I was still fighting for all homes to have individual bins, and not have to rely on huge dumpsters in alleys.  I raised issues at budget time that often succeeded in having proposed expenditures brought into the public view - for example, most of council was fine with having the Borealis bail-out hidden in the budget.  We still ended up losing that fight, but at least it was in the open.  I succeeded in getting a tax exemption for the Recycle Store - something that helps to build more houses through Habitat for Humanity, focused on providing affordable housing for those in lower income brackets.  This is a cause that I've supported since before my time on council, because I know that it  makes a real difference to people without a lot of resources.

Some of the calls I've had since the election have been with people second-guessing what I could have done differently.  After one such call, Andrea asked me "Would you have changed anything you did?"  And I have to say that no, considering all the factors, I still would have done the same thing.  Perhaps it comes down to what Andrea has said consistently over the last sixteen years - I'm a good councillor, but not so good as a politician.  Which is how it should be.

I appreciate all the support I received during the election - having people call and ask for lawn signs, or spend a morning hammering them in, was quite heart-warming.  My invaluable media consultant provides advice that I could never afford to pay for.  I appreciate those who were available for conversations  - having that support, from people who are still supportive after the election, is another illustration of what true friendship is.

As always, the support from my family was and is unwavering.  Ingrid helped with my first campaign - she couldn't vote, but she helped fold flyers, which got her some civic marks in her history class.  Guthrie has been able to vote for me a few times, and told Andrea that the best thing that he's learned over the past sixteen years is the importance of standing up for what you think is right.  That makes me feel good.  And Andrea, whose continuous optimism and cheerfulness balances my more pessimistic outlook, is the reason why this blog comes out free of grammar and spelling errors.

Several people have asked that the blog continue, as they value the additional information and insight that it provides.  So when an issue catches my interest, I'll post something.  Even after 317 posts, I still have things to say.  And if it helps to bring issues to light, all the better.  Just as when I was a councillor, I'll do my best for the residents of Ward 3.  After all, I still live here.

"Truth is stranger than any fiction I've seen." - Hunter S. Thompson

Sunday, October 16, 2016

It's Voting Time!

Andrea, Guthrie and I voted on Saturday morning, at the advance poll at City Hall.  We usually vote at advance polls - it gets the job done, and election day can be busy.  We were part of a small crowd, but as usual the officials were efficient at getting people through the process.

I would suggest that you download the voter registration form from the city web-page before you go - that allows you to skip a step.  This is something that wasn't as well advertised as it could have been.  I found out about it at the candidates' information session held last week, and it is in the voter brochure that went out a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't see anyone else with filled out forms while we were there.  With our filled out forms we were able to go straight to the line to get our ballots, rather than stopping at the long table to fill out the form.

The ballot is different from in past years.  Whereas before you would be handed three separate ballots - for mayor, councillor and school board - it's now all on one sheet.  And rather than marking an X, you fill in an oval by your preferred candidate, similar to filling out a multiple choice exam that's going to be marked by a computer.  After you vote the form is fed into a machine like a fax machine, confirming that you've voted.  Quite a change from making sure that the right ballot goes into the right ballot box.  This should make getting results much quicker on election night.

Voter turn-out in municipal elections is usually quite low, which I don't understand.  Civic elections are about the issues that affect your life every day - garbage pick-up, snow-plowing, ensuring that clean water goes into your house and that pipes are there to take away the water after it's been used.  Decisions made by council will affect the state of the street in front of your house, how often sidewalks are repaired, and how many police officers patrol the streets.

Perhaps the low turn-out is because the issues are so ordinary, and members of council are so accessible.  We live right here, not in Regina or Ottawa, we have no staff to organize us or prevent us from saying stupid things, and you're likely to see us in the grocery store or coffee shop, so that you can offer your opinion or ask questions in person, rather than going through communications people.

I would argue that those ordinary issues make civic elections more important to citizens on a day-to-day basis than provincial or federal elections.  Once elected, a member of council is directly responsible to his or her constituents, not to the leader of a party, and is free to vote however they wish, which means that the opinions of residents are taken into consideration with every vote.

If you still want to vote early, there are three more advance polls - next Thursday and Friday evenings, and next Saturday afternoon, all at City Hall.  If you're waiting for Election Day, the city has done a couple more things to make things easier.  Public transit is free on that day, to make it easier to get to the polls, and two super polls have been added, where voters from all wards can vote.  One is at the Art Hauser Centre, the other at the Field House.  These options might be helpful if you have to pass either on your way to or from work.

How you vote is your decision, of course, but I would suggest that substance be a bigger factor in your decision than image.  I've been on councils where image was the over-riding factor in most decisions, and that left us with a huge infrastructure deficit that we're still trying to make up for, and facilities that require increasing subsidies every year that weren't planned for.  Read all you can, ask questions of your candidates, and make your decision based on facts, not fiction.

"Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote." - George Jean Nathan

Monday, October 10, 2016

Should the City be Run Like a Business?

One of the suggestions that is often made in on-line forums is that the city should be run like a business, and to ensure that, more business people should be elected to council.  I think that, as is often the case, people are looking for a simple answer to solve complicated problems.

Unfortunately, it's just not that simple.  Businesses are owned by one or more shareholders, and their main responsibility is to return profits to their shareholders.  The city, on the other hand, is a government, and its responsibility is to provide services to residents, in return for which the residents pay taxes.  The city is responsible for things considered in the greater good, whether they are profitable or not.  For example, green spaces like parks and playgrounds are not money-makers, nor are they essential like safe drinking water, but most people would agree that they make the city a much more attractive and pleasant place to live.

With businesses, there is competition.  If I don't like the service or products or prices offered at a certain store, I'm free to go elsewhere.  Good businesses know this, and will do their best to provide good reasons for customers to patronize them, whether it be cheaper prices, unique products, or superior service.  With the city, residents have no option.  You don't like how or when your street was plowed?  You can't pick up the phone and call a competitor.  One of the big problems for the city is how to offer equitable services.  For something like snow plowing, priority routes are identified, and the crews do their best to also get to residential areas when priority areas are done, varying which residential areas get service first.  Of course, another storm will set the whole thing back to priority routes, which then results in more complaints.

The double-edged sword of offering tax incentives to attract new businesses is an idea that is being offered by some candidates.  The downside of incentives is that they provide a competitive disadvantage to current businesses - if the city offered a tax holiday to Starbucks if they took over one of the current vacant downtown storefronts, I'm sure that the many coffee shops currently operational in the city would complain loudly over the unfairness of the situation.  Council currently looks at such requests on an individual basis; I think that we should also develop some guidelines around the size of incentives as related to the benefits to the city, whether it be number of employees, potential benefit to related businesses, or other criteria.

With regard to the suggestion that we need more business people on council, you might be surprised to realize that half of the current council is made up of current or previous business owners.  Having a council made up entirely of business people would not achieve the necessary diversity of perspectives that I believe is necessary for good decision-making.  And if we want to look at history, part of the reason that some areas of the city have fewer amenities than others is that before the ward system, council was largely made up of residents of the better-off areas, leading to more money being invested in those areas than in the unrepresented areas.

For all that, I do think that there are areas where the city could be more business-like.  For one, projects could be run more efficiently.  The boondoggle that happened last year on Eighth Street, when the repaving and pipe replacement work was abandoned for paving a parking lot behind SIAST, and not completed until this year, is an example of poor planning and execution that likely wouldn't have happened with a business, where work isn't paid for until complete.

Better communication is also an area where we could learn from business.  Business owners know that you have to keep the customer informed, whether it's about new products, sales, or renovations that are going to affect accessibility.  The city just isn't that good about informing residents about what's going on, in most cases, although the information package that recently was sent to residents about the upcoming election is an exception to that, and I must congratulate the City Clerk for that effort.

Finally, I think that the city could do a far better job in providing better client service.  All too often I'm called by a resident who is trying to get information from City Hall, and they get the run-around.  I've experienced poor service myself, when the person answering the phone in Finance did not identify themselves, and became quite rude until I identified myself.  Another councillor had a similar experience this past week, trying to find out about garbage pick-up.  While I realize that not all employees lack this understanding of the importance of providing good service, I think that setting some standards for how phones are answered, and how quickly messages are responded to, would go a great distance in improving residents' experiences in dealing with problems.

As I've often said, there are no easy solutions to the problems that come up when trying to run the city efficiently and effectively.  Council needs to look at the whole range of solutions, remembering that our final obligation is to provide a wide range of services as equitably as possible to all residents.

"It's easy to make a buck.  It's a lot tougher to make a difference." - Tom Brokaw

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Questions You Should Ask Your Candidates

We're now in full election mode, with signs popping up on boulevards and lawns, ads in the paper, flyers appearing in mailboxes, and candidates knocking on doors.  Signs, of course, provide the least information about a candidate, ads slightly more, and flyers even more.  And the city website provides a brief profile provided by the candidate.  But all of these are the candidate's attempt to put forth the most favourable impression - they don't really go into too much depth.

Should you get a candidate on your doorstep, this is your opportunity to ask more in-depth questions.  Should your paths not cross (and as someone who has done a lot of door-knocking over the years, it's hard to catch people at home in these busy times), their contact information is on the city web-page, and on their flyers as well.  I would encourage you to pick up the phone or drop them an email, and ask these questions.  After all, nobody should be elected based solely on a good looking picture or a snappy sound-bite.

For starters, why are they running for council?  It's a hard job where criticism comes far more often than compliments, and like any job, some people are better suited to it than others.  Beware the candidate who is running because they have a specific interest - they need to be interested in the well-being of the city and its residents as a whole, not just one sector, particularly one that will directly benefit them.

Have they been to a council meeting?  Have they reviewed an agenda?  Do they have previous experience on boards and committees?  Do they understand that council works best when all opinions are heard with respect before decisions are made?

Did they review this year's budget?  Do they understand that council, cannot, by law, pass a deficit budget - that is a luxury only allowed higher levels of government.  To reduce the need to increase taxes, do they see areas where spending could be done more efficiently?  Do they see areas where wants took priority over needs?  How would they persuade the rest of council to get on board?

One of the biggest areas where council was criticized this year was on the bail-out of the Borealis Music Festival.  Would your candidate have supported this bail-out?  What would they have done in the earlier stages to prevent the need for such a bail-out?  We all agree that  new initiatives are needed - how can council members prevent adding additional burdens to the tax-payer?

Do they understand what falls within council's control, and what doesn't?  The unglamourous basics like infrastructure maintenance, garbage pick-up, snow removal and street sweeping are things that affect every resident, and have to be taken care of.  Much as they affect us, social issues are the responsibility of other agencies, and while we can support initiatives from these agencies, we don't drive that particular bus.  Council has to know which areas are our responsibility, and those which we can only support, and focus on the fundamentals that are within our control.

The police budget takes up more than one-third of our expenditures.  What are their ideas for using these funds more efficiently?  Do they understand that there are no quick fixes, but taking a stronger stand on bylaw enforcement for rental properties, for example, would actually help to resolve some of the underlying issues behind high crime rates.

Most council decisions require balancing different needs against resources.  We cannot give tax concessions to one group, for example, without finding revenues from somewhere else.  How would they find this balance?

And finally, and probably most importantly, do they act with integrity?  Do their actions match their words, both now and in the past?  In all three elections in the past year we've seen candidates embarrassed by things that they've posted on social media that don't match what they're saying now.  If this is the case, do they have an explanation?

Your responsibility as a voter is to make the best decision possible, and you can't do that without finding out what your candidate really thinks.  Don't be deterred by platitudes; if they won't give you a straight answer, then they don't deserve your vote.

"There is no stupid question; stupid people don't ask questions." - Anonymous

Monday, September 26, 2016

Communications - That Vital Step that is So Often Screwed Up

The recently cancelled Hydraulic Flushing Program is yet another example about how the city thinks that it's doing a good job of communicating about something, but falls short in the details.

This is something that hasn't been done before - flushing all of the water pipes in the city to remove dirt and build-up, so that water can run more easily, and more cleanly.

Rather than doing a trial run, the program was announced with great fanfare, and a letter was sent to all residents.  Communications glitch number 1 - I don't know what was in your letter, but the letter that came to my house referred to an enclosed pamphlet for more detail.  Unfortunately, there was no enclosed pamphlet in the letter that came to my house.

Notice of when the program was to be in your area was to be given to each household 24 hours in advance, advising that the next day pipes would be flushed between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and that water was not to be used during these 12 hours.

Problems were evident from the start of the program, which began on the West Flat.  Someone involved turned a valve the wrong way, with the result that water was turned off, to several homes, without any warning.  This meant that residents had no chance to stock up on water for any purpose.  When the water came back on, it came with a boil water advisory - again, no chance to stock up on water for drinking or cooking.  After a number of phone calls and emails from the councillor for the area, the cause of the problem was identified, along with a promise that it wouldn't happen again.

Well, it did.  On Friday, September 16, I got a phone call from a resident in the 100 block of 10th Street East - their water was off, with no warning, and he couldn't get through to City Hall to find out why.  It turned out that the same thing had happened - a worker had turned a valve the wrong way.  For several residents, that meant no water, without any warning.  I then started getting calls from residents on 8th Street - same thing, no water, no warning.

Late that afternoon, Andrea and I were enjoying the warm afternoon on our deck.  I went to the front of the house to check something, and on my way back, I saw a yellow door knocker, which had been blown off and landed on a corner of the deck.  It was pure luck that I saw it.

The message on it wasn't exactly clear.  The next day's date, Sept. 17/16 was written in ink at the top, then the generic notice was printed below - that this was 24 hour notice, that the hydraulic flushing program was now in our area, and that we were advised not to use water during the 12 hours, from 7 until 7, until flushing was complete.

What wasn't clear was exactly when the flushing was to happen.  The 17th was a Saturday, and the program was only supposed to run on weekdays.  On the other hand, perhaps they were trying to make up for lost time.  The notice would have been much more informative had it said something like "Flushing will occur in your block on this date."  In any case, we set aside some water for drinking and cooking, and the next day minimized our use of water.  Late in the day, we once again were enjoying the sun on our deck, when I saw a worker on the avenue turning a valve.  I asked him if the flushing was complete; he responded that they hadn't started on our block yet, but it would probably happen on Monday.

Earlier than day, on my way to the Farmers' Market, I had seen a notice tucked into the door of a closed business in the 100 block of 10th Street.  This one was even more confusing - the original date on it was September 18, but over the 18, 16 had been written.  If I had been the recipient of that notice, I would have been even more confused.

On Monday we did the same minimizing water use - I didn't even shower or change into a suit for the council meeting, where I raised my concerns about how the whole program was being carried out, particularly the lack of notice or information to the people whose water was turned off.  And I asked that for those residents who were under a boil water advisory, that testing of those areas be prioritized so that they would be inconvenienced for as short a time as possible.

The next day, city administration announced the suspension of the program.  Originally they said that it was because winter was coming (like they didn't know that when the program was announced); later the city manager admitted that they hadn't communicated things well, and that problems had happened.  No apology to the residents.

I hope that we've learned from this that when we're going to try something new, we should do a small test run first.  If a problem like someone turning a valve the wrong way happens, increase checks so that it doesn't happen again.  Make notification of residents clear, and timely, and when something goes wrong, let them know as quickly as possible, and even make a gesture like providing bottled water.  Such actions would go a long way in convincing residents that we take our responsibilities of providing such basic services as clean water seriously, and when something goes wrong, we will do our best to make it right.

And good communication is a key part of this.  Council just approved the hiring of a second communications person (I did not agree with this, as I don't think we should be adding positions without seriously considering whether the position is truly needed, and if it is, then let's have an open competition).  Let's hope that at the very least, we develop better processes for communicating with residents.

"The single biggest problem in communications is the illusion that it has taken place." - George Bernard Shaw