At some point, we all make mistakes.
Our fallibility is the quintessence of what it means to be human.
Suffice it to say, I’ve made my share of poor decisions, personally and professionally – gaffes that have formed the basis of a steep lifelong experiential learning curve – the trials and errors of a career in public service that spanned over three-decades.
Over time, I learned that the thrill and recognition of getting it right is fleeting – and acknowledging failures is not always fatal.
It’s how we learn from our mistakes that truly matters.
Unfortunately, the organizational culture of many local governments abjures the timeless concepts of accountability commensurate with responsibility – never admitting mistakes – and communicating with constituents in ambiguous sound bites and hollow releases, official claptrap that allows senior elected and appointed officials to take credit for successes and point the finger when errors occur.
(Tune into any governmental coronavirus “briefing” for an example. . .)
It’s a big part of the “trust issue” that has plagued Volusia County government for years.
Perhaps its time our elected leadership understand the power of an apology – and the importance of maintaining the organizational flexibility to change tack and alter critical decisions that may impact our quality of life for years to come.
Earlier this week, we learned that a combination of factors are beginning to merge on the long-anticipated East International Speedway Boulevard corridor project – one that promises to both improve the aesthetics of our horribly blighted main entrance to the “World’s Most Famous Beach” – and expedite traffic flow at the Halifax area’s busiest beach access point.
Everyone agrees: This one’s important.
In fact, virtually every chair of the Daytona Beach Regional Chamber of Commerce over the past decade has listed the revitalization of East ISB as a major civic and economic priority. . .
Since its inception, residents and traffic engineers have fought against the ludicrous idea of placing a traffic roundabout at the intersection of East ISB and A-1-A – a plan that was inexplicably supported by the City of Daytona Beach, despite all best evidence that it will result in a nightmare of gridlock during peak season and compromise traffic flow year-round.
It’s not that traffic circles don’t work – it’s that the dynamics of this particular intersection make a roundabout inappropriate.
This week, in an informative article in The Daytona Beach News-Journal by the intrepid Eileen Zaffiro-Kean, we learned that – thanks to the unrelenting efforts of Maryam Ghyabi – a veteran traffic engineer who chairs an eclectic group of power-brokers known as the “ISB Coalition” – and the continuing protestations of concerned residents – there is now a glimmer of hope that the disastrous roundabout plan may be scrapped in favor of a signalized intersection.
Perhaps most impressive, during a recent ISB Coalition meeting attended by Florida Department of Transportation Interim District Secretary Jared Perdue, Daytona Beach City Commissioner Rob Gilliland “suggested the signalized intersection idea be dusted off and reconsidered.”
Commissioner Gilliland stopped short of issuing a public apology for blatantly ignoring our suggestions and concerns – then handing us the exact opposite (à la the Beach Street debacle) – so, the ability to pause and consider alternatives represents a quantum leap for the City of Daytona Beach.
For years, the idea of improving the gateway has languished in a bureaucratic netherworld, and only recently did we learn that the $24 million project is expected to start in early 2023 – a timetable that is still possible even with significant changes to the intersection.
During the meeting, Secretary Perdue said, “If the community is not wanting this roundabout, we’ll go back and look at that,” Perdue said at the ISB Coalition meeting. “We don’t want to deliver a project the community doesn’t want.”
Isn’t that exactly what we’ve wanted to hear from the beginning of this saga?
In my view, Ms. Ghyabi’s hard work, including her behind-the-scenes efforts to educate our powers that be on this potential disaster in the making are laudable, and demonstrate that – when the hearts and minds of decision-makers remain open to new ideas and information – true progress is possible.
Another incredible example of how humility, and a willingness to alter course, can bring about positive civic change is embodied in Flagler Beach City Manager Larry Newsom.
Earlier this week, Mr. Newsom issued a formal apology to residents for the city’s mismanagement of a storm water project funded by a grant from the St. Johns River Water Management District.
The project was originally designed to reduce neighborhood flooding and the discharge of contaminants into local waters.
According to Mr. Newsom’s heartfelt mea culpa:
“Retrospectively, the flow of information from the City to our citizens on this project, both before the project started and during the project, could have and should have been much better. Communication and information from City Hall on activity in citizen’s front yards that could potentially impacted (sp) secondary parking in the right-of-way should have been distributed.”
A true apology? That’s unheard of.
In addition, Mr. Newsom demonstrated decisive leadership when he refused to pay any additional fees, and terminated the current contractor effective last Wednesday.
Work on the controversial project is expected to resume with a new contractor from the existing bid package on Monday.
“Once again, I apologize for the errors we as a City made during this swale project, and we have learned a hard lesson that the lowest bidder is not always the best selection.”
I’m pretty sure that’s what good governance looks like.
At some point, every governmental organization will make a mistake that requires it issue a well-intentioned ‘sorry’ – to an individual citizen, its employees or the public it exists to serve.
Unfortunately, those official apologies come around about as often as the Comet Kohoutek. . .
In my view, honest communication is the key to building a relationship of special trust and confidence between elected officials and their constituents – and the examples above give us all reason for hope.