Three cheers to Steve Brandau for succinctly summing up what once made America great.
I’m referring to the Fresno City Council’s vote last Thursday on a proposed consulting contract.
The issue was whether to spend about $140,000 to hire a firm to help with the planning for a trash drop-off center. I wrote a piece for CVObserver leading up to the hearing.
In a nutshell, the city’s residential trash customers could take big piles of trash – too big for their weekly service – to this drop-off center. It would be like having the once-a-year Operation Cleanup service year-around (but with you hauling the stuff to the center).
The plan’s main goal: Do something positive about Fresno’s huge illegal dumping problem.
Public Utilities’ Solid Waste Division pitched the proposal. The council on Thursday debated things for only four minutes. In the end, the proposal died on a 3-3 vote. Oliver Baines, Paul Caprioglio and Luis Chavez voted yes. Garry Bredefeld, Clint Olivier and Brandau voted no. Esmeralda Soria was absent.
The administration of Mayor Lee Brand almost certainly will bring the idea back.
Let’s take a look at debate.
Bredefeld began things by telling Jerry Schuber, head of the Solid Waste Division, exactly what bugged him about the proposal.
“I certainly support what we’re trying to do here in terms of setting up this kind of program,” Bredefeld said. “I think it’s a great thing. I think it’s obviously going to be heavily utilized. My issue is about the need for a consultant to determine this.”
In essence, Bredefeld said, the staff report already outlined just about everything needed to get the program up and running. As to the need for a consultant to do an outreach program to the community – well, Bredefeld asked, does that job really need an expensive outsider?
“The other thing is the public relations campaign. I don’t know that we need a consultant to do that,” Bredefeld said. “I sometimes feel like we as a city have gotten so used to relying on consultants.”
The big challenge is picking the best spot for the center, Bredefeld said. City officials, whose job is to connect with Fresnans, can handle that task, he said.
“This (center) is something that clearly the people are going to want,” Bredefeld said.
Schuber, a veteran at the Solid Waste Division, said City Hall has occasionally gotten into trouble by failing to thoroughly engage the public in the siting of potentially controversial projects.
“I can tell you that in the past, when we haven’t engaged in this kind of process, we have had problems (in) moving things into areas where they probably could have gone, but it’s the delivery” that proved faulty, Schuber said. “Having someone who can do the outreach, and actually have the discussions with the public to kind of encompass some support for those things, helps us greatly. I understand that the cost for a consultant can be a question, but I think that in this case it’s well worth it.”
City Manager Bruce Rudd stepped in to buttress Schuber’s point.
“Let me add – over the last year or so we’ve also been criticized for not doing enough outreach,” Rudd said. “That we didn’t reach out to this person or this group or these people, or these people didn’t know and now we’re asking council to make a decision, and who did you talk to and why didn’t you talk to them. So, the effort to expand that community engagement is what is driving a lot of this as far as hiring consultants to make sure that we touch the correct the people, that we use the right media platform, that we touch all of the various stakeholders. Because in the past we’ve been criticized for not doing that.”
Schuber knows what buttons to push in an argument about complex government policy.
“I would also add that environmental law being what it is, it is always better to have someone who is an expert in that field to give us the absolute ‘this is a great place to put it, the community was engaged and accepts it,’ and then we move forward with an actual contract,” Schuber said.
All this took place early in the meeting. A full agenda beckoned. Brandau cut to the chase.
He said even local editorial-writers of progressive newspapers realize outreach is overrated.
“So, why don’t we just form a little 10-member group within the City of Fresno that always runs around for the outreach to the same hundred people, and holds meetings with that same hundred people on all of these issues?” Brandau said.
Brandau must have realized he was heading toward a stem-winder, the kind that earns a “Blah-Blah-Blah Award” from Caprioglio. Brandau paused, leaned back in his chair and looked at Council President Olivier.
“Screw it! I’m voting no,” Brandau said.
I think the drop-off center is a good idea. I’m guessing it eventually becomes a reality.
But Brandau’s basic point is spot on. From Washington, D.C. to the smallest special assessment district, too much nonsense comes out of our representative democracy. It all lands on the people and their liberty.
We need more politicians to vow: “Screw it! I’m voting no.”