As an experienced municipal manager, I felt my duty was to educate newly elected council members on the nuances of their local government operation. Typically, those that were successful in the general election would meet with me for a universal overview of what they could expect for the upcoming reorganizational meeting in January. In addition, I would provide any information they may request, like detailed copies of the proposed budget and any hot-button items that may be forthcoming in the future. Most, if not all, were extremely surprised at the level of complexity behind the municipal building walls. They depended on me to keep them informed and keep things running as smoothly as possible.
I would often take newly elected council members on a personal tour of all the roads we were responsible to maintain. Some didn't even know certain rural roads even existed. And many were surprised at the size of the municipality and sheer scope of our road network. I helped educate them not just on our roads, but also bridges and drainage issues and future road projects. In addition, I touched on the state's liquid fuels process and our agreements with neighboring townships. It was like an informal Roads 101 class.
Next, we would visit our water and sewer plants. Again, most had no idea how multifarious these two public utilities were — understanding our responsibilities to operate these facilities safely and meet the DEP’s stringent requirements required a commitment necessary by the operator and staff. These conversations also helped gain the council's support for these essential services. Decision-making on their part was made much easier when they had a basic understanding of how things worked.
Once in office and onboarded, council members would often get requests from friends, family members and neighbors to take some action on specific issues or concerns they may have. These requests eventually made their way to my desk. Some I could accommodate easily, and I tried to give them priority so that the constituents knew we were providing great service.
But I always made it clear that we could only accommodate requests that were within the purview of our municipality. For example, I had no problem placing some gravel in a rut by a mailbox within the right of way. This is a good maintenance procedure and helps save the paved portion of the roadway. But if someone asked us to dump gravel in their driveway outside of the right of way, the answer was always “No.” Same goes for requests to go onto someone’s property and drop or trim a tree. Sorry, no can do. We can only take care of projects within the municipality’s right of way and on municipal property. Beyond that, we had to draw a line and say “No.”
When questioned by council members as to why we couldn’t accommodate those types of requests, I’ve tried to explain that we cannot provide special services or offer special treatment. We must treat everyone equally. Therefore, I instructed the council that "if you do for one, you do for all," which would be impossible in most cases. If we were to trim a tree for one resident, all the other residents would be equally entitled to that service. Imagine that humongous task.
Remember: Even though you may not see them, the general public is always watching. They know where you're working and what you are doing. If they see that backhoe off the right of way, you can bet questions will be asked. Therefore, a strict policy of "if you do for one, you do for all" is a wise way to keep an already difficult job from becoming a confrontation with angry residents.
As always, Keystone Municipal Solutions stands ready to help you with staffing quality management that understands the multifaceted requirements of today's local government. It is time to "fire this thing up" and get to work, as long as it's in the right of way and not a special favor. After all, "if you do for one, you do for all."
About the Author
David L. Anthony is a member of the Keystone Municipal Solutions team of experts. He is a veteran of municipal government, having served more than 32 years in various positions of public service. Contact him at email@example.com. To learn more about David and the Keystone Municipal Solutions team, click here.