City Council responded to the wrong question today. With the exception of Jeff Koch, each council member assured the public that they had no power to decide which streets get paved and which are left to crack and crumble further. Koch, who spent 25 years in Public Works, felt he was elected to his council seat because of this experience and he therefore was expected to make decisions as to which streets should be paved and which should not. He further added, without any apologies, that that’s just what he intends to do.
Today’s discussion was prompted by Bill Peduto’s legislation which called for the mayor to abandon the subjective picking of streets and return to a computer-driven pothole assessment model. Council’s varied explanations were in response to public perception that street paving occurs on streets where the politically-connected resided rather than streets in the most need of repair. But their personal denials skirted the central issue which was whether “pothole politics” was in play at some level of local government. This, the real question, was left unanswered.
Councilman Jim Motznik, who like Koch used to evaluate streets when employed in Public Works, felt that the current “manual” evaluation system was working just fine. “The system does not need fixed”, was his eloquent summation of the situation. “Misinformation is being sent to the media. The public needs to know I don’t pick the streets, committee chairs don’t pick the streets, the Director of Public Works picks the streets.”
Exactly the point. The public does not trust that Public Works Director Guy Costa or any other civil servant is “picking” streets according to any objective criteria … manual or not. Council’s long commentary today did nothing to allay those fears.
Darlene Harris, who was not favorably inclined toward a computer-driven system, thought there would always be a need for the “human element”. She was also upset by the tone of the public emails she received on the subject as was Jim Motznik.
As usual, it was Councilwoman Tonya Payne who missed the boat by the widest mark. She indignantly declared that our lack of money, and not politics, was the reason all the needy streets weren’t being paved. Note to Tonya: The discussion was about the fair and objective prioritization of streets on the paving list. Not about our inability to get to all of them.