Where everybody’s business is nobody’s business

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Philip Joyce, a professor at University of Maryland’s school of Public Policy, had a great piece last month on the fundamental ways that running a government is different from running a business.

Earlier today Clr. Mrakas wrote a piece on a similar theme, but then took it one step futher about how residents are taxpayers NOT clients or customers:

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I’m not convinced such a black and white approach is well serving.

Academics aren’t either.

Henry Mintzberg, a professor at McGill is quoted on pg 174 of Kathe Callahan’s book Elements of Effective Governance as identifying customer, client, citizen and subject as 4 hats we wear in society. Mintzberg outlines how each term has associated with it a different expectation for behavior and a different expectation for the level of interaction and direct citizen involvement.

Closer to home Murray Cooke, who is faculty with the Department of Political Science at York University, has amongst his online notes a powerpoint that speaks to Serving Customers, Clients or Citizens.

Roles of citizens come with ambiguities, dilemmas, tensions and contradictions that are not captured under an either/or dynamic of taxpayer vs. customer.

Oh, and the town of Aurora does sell things, lots of things from experiences (wristbands to music concerts) merchandise featuring the town’s logo (coffee mugs, pins) space rentals (ice time, birthday party space, weddings) and a multitude of pay-to-play programs.

As Clr. Mrakas has pointed out the key difference between the the town of Aurora’s aim and that of the private sector is cost recovery not capital accumulation. But goods and services are still being sold. There is the client / customer and there is the Town. Between the two is a business relationship.

Moving on to the services the town doesn’t nickel and dime for are all stirred together in a big pot “sold” to both Aurora residents and businesses through taxes.

Just like any business marketing terms are used in selling these services like “providing an exceptional quality of life”.

While I agree that businesses and residents are unable to opt-out of the bag of goods they are sold each year they aren’t hostages either. They always retain the option to shop around for a better deal and take their business and themselves elsewhere. Some do. Businesses up and close. Families and professionals move on to where they get what the town fails to provide.

You can’t manage what you don’t measure and a fiscally responsible business purporting to ensure services both residents wants and needs are met would be measuring themselves both against their competition ( other municipalities ) and themselves ( past terms) so they could influence policy decisions in a timely fashion.

Where are these metrics?

How many businesses have come to Aurora vs. left over the last 5 years.

What are the demographics of the residents coming vs going?

What are the trends?

What does council know about the business it governs? More importantly what doesn’t it know?

From the outside I’ve seen a growing lack of confidence around the council table in how effectively the business of town is being run. This shows itself in items being wrapped up in multiple reports and consultant studies on items that need immediate action. Only after reaching an extremely high comfort level are they willing to act.

Businesses that operate in a perpetual state of fear aren’t the innovators they are the laggards.

That’s where the polticking should end, and the comparison should begin.

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