The Centerville City Council just recently approved the city’s door-to-door recycling contract for this fall, finally putting a cap on nearly a year’s worth of discussion, research, public hearings and general decision-making (not to mention the years of less-directed discussion that occurred before then).
Though that may seem like a lot of foot-dragging to the general public (particularly when you remember that a year is actually pretty quick, as far as municipal decision-making is concerned), making sure you’re doing the best thing for thousands of different people takes plenty of time and debate.
You have to inform everyone, do the research, crunch the numbers, weigh the pros and cons multiple times and get opinion after opinion from more than just the relatively small segment of the population that usually pays attention to city council meetings.
First, the city council has to be sure that the decision is solid enough that it’s worth starting the process over. This usually takes a lot of research by city staff and a lot of back-and-forth discussion between city council members, who never seem to be in immediate agreement about anything (as the city population wouldn’t be either, this is probably a good thing). If an idea doesn't seem worth it even for a majority of the council, there’s probably no reason to move on with it.
Then comes making the plan. This generally falls on the shoulders of the brilliant yet overworked city staff, who have to figure out the best way to make the idea actually able to be implemented at the same time that they’re fulfilling all their other duties. Just the level of research involved here makes me immediately sympathetic, and they also have to regularly check in with the city council to keep them updated.
Then there are the public hearings. For the door-to-door recycling there were two large ones held on the general issue, with another held later on some of the specific details.
From the outside, public hearings seem like a family argument written large, with everyone saying their piece without taking into account other people’s viewpoints or coming to some sort of compromise. They also take forever to hold and don’t seem to get anything accomplished.
Still, they’re an absolutely vital part of the decision-making process, because it’s in those moments that city officials prove that they’re actually trying to speak for the residents who did (or didn’t elect them). Even though some people are inevitably left unhappy, it’s important that the city council puts forth the effort.
And with most decisions, the council and staff have to repeat these steps multiple times. As annoying as it sometimes is to wait, I’ll leave the decisions to them any day.