Hole in the head or hole in the roof?

One definition of insanity is to execute the same process repeatedly and expect a different result. Consultants have expanded this notion with a corollary that warns that insanity also includes executing the process with the same people and tools and expecting different results. On July 22, I saw two, if not three of these elements of insanity play out in the City Council meeting. The City Council voted to award a contract for a plan to fix the arena roof at the Civic Center.

So why would I say this is insanity? This is the third time since February 2005 that City Council has voted to fix the arena roof. That’s 3.5 years. Why are they still voting? Why have we paid for two studies of the roof in the meantime? Why don’t we have a new roof? If the $130,000 approved to develop a construction plan is spent, can we actually expect to see workmen on top of the arena replacing the roof? History would tell us that we can’t.

That brings me back to my original premise: Why should we expect a different result?

I’ve asked the City Council to take a different approach. It seems to me that (a) the Council has not been engaged in the process, and (b) the city staff has not effectively executed directions from the City Council. While there are several dysfunctional components of this process, one way they can be remediated is by employing a few, simple basic management techniques.

First, I would ask City Council to be more specific in defining the scope of their direction to city staff. This would involve concretely describing what they want city staff to do, what timeframe they want it done by, how much they should spend (they are already doing this one thing) and, finally, reporting criteria—including milestones to be achieved.

City staff should negotiate with and modify (with Council concurrence) City Council’s request as appropriate. Once staff accepts the request, they should lay out a plan that will complete the project on time and on budget. The plan would naturally include periodic reporting to City Council on milestones achieved, resources expended and progress made (or not made). This could even be reported to a subcommittee of the Council or to the Civic Center Commission. City Council, as a whole, could be updated on a regular or exception basis.

Does this seem like micromanagement? You bet it does—but back to my original concept: If something isn’t working, you need to address it in a different way. The city could choose to outsource the engineering department or any of a host of ideas but, at the end of the day, something has to change.

So far I have heard from two council members about my suggested approach to the repair of the arena roof. One stated that he would ask for status reports from the city manager but, as we have seen over the last three and one-half years, it’s a “fer” piece between sayin’ and doin’!

— Max Alexander
Asheville

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