Thursday, October 31, 2013

Growing Ferndale Bureacracy - 4 Examples

During the mayoral debates you may have heard me mention increasing bureaucracy within our local government activities. Here are four examples that I watched or endured over the past ten months.

For sixteen years, I have helped organize many civic events, mostly fundraisers for local charities that also promote our downtown. I’ve organized a dozen music festivals, sixteen pub crawls, political rallies, memorials, and three Gay Pride festivals. But the most recent Ferndale Pride festival, which I chaired, was the most difficult and frustrating event I have ever organized, and it was because of incredible and hard to fathom problems with local Ferndale officials. It took five separate meetings over the course of five months, expending dozens of person-hours, and innumerable phone calls and emails, just to get our permits from the city to put on this annual, popular, and important event. Two of us from the pride committee worked with at least 14 staff members and officials to get this done.

The city has a “Director of Special Events” who insisted on where stages were to be placed, how to configure booths and vehicles, and what streets we could use. At one point he tried to separate two parts of the event, moving the 1,000 person Rainbow Run into neighborhoods, with traffic between them and the festival. He tried to limit the festival to one block, which would have caused serious problems including safety of festival goers. One of my co-chairs and I each had to take time off work to meet with him in City Hall during city work hours. This happened four times. Calls to the City Manager and the mayor did nothing to ameliorate our misery struggling with this unyielding minor official. It made me want to never work on a festival again.

This city staffer then linked up with the Police Chief to try and force our music to end at 8:45 pm on a summer Saturday night, instead of our requested 9 pm. Even though festivals in Ferndale routinely run to 10 or 11 pm, ours was forced to end earlier. We had to have another two meetings, pleading with City Council, to finally get what we requested. We had to beg, with hat in hand, for that 15 minutes of music. The pride festival has never had any problems or complaints. It is loved by the community, and it was an absolute pain to organize this past year.

I wrote about the frustration experienced by the Ferndale Environmental Sustainability Commission in a previous blog earlier this year. It took six months to rewrite a one page ordinance that renewed that popular and important commission. At least three members resigned during that excruciating process.

Our annual Arbor Day Ceremony, which has happened every year for a decade, took 3 months to organize and was held two months AFTER Arbor Day. That simple event lasts about 45 minutes, with a few staff and a dozen children planting a tree in a park.

Finally, the city hired, yet again, a “management consulting company” to add another layer to the planning of the court renovation project. More than six months in planning, the company was disorganized and late with simple tasks of preparing and issuing bids, some out of order; construction couldn’t start because abatement hadn’t occurred. The court and police were moved into cramped temporary headquarters, while the project was delayed for three months.

This is not the friendly and efficient city government that we want and expect in Ferndale.