Thursday, June 19, 2008

Fine Lines within Political Garbage...

Mayor Domenic Sarno's about face on the trash fee, plan to implement Pay as You Throw, and eventual retreat is in any number of ways classic politicking. Going back on promises and reversals are commonplace. Springfield should not feel unique in this regard. However, as has been raised by many in the Valley Blogosphere, Sarno may face the wrath of an electorate that many have more than a few people who switched votes over the trash fee and many burned Ryanites.

For the record, the implementation of a PAYT system is good policy, but the means by which it was to be executed was not so. As has been said on this blog and shall be repeated certainly, a container based, rather than bag based system will be significantly less complicated and if done correctly will encourage recycling and reduce waste disposal costs. Let's not forget the positive environmental impact of recycling either.

The flip-flopping (like John Kerry, maybe its a Massachusetts thing, jk, Senator, like you're reading this blog, HO HO) is what might be most damning for Sarno in the end. This particular gaffe is a doublewammy. It smacks of the behind the scenes and lack of public involvement common in the city's corrupt administrations while being crummy policy more generally. However, the sudden reversal needs investigation, too.

Following public opinion is a common way that politicians remain in office usually when external forces require them to change viewpoints, but more than rarely also to reverse a previous mistake. Some may call this populism, which is not necessarily bad. Sarno cannot make this claim, however, because the original bad decision was his coming off the heels of disavowing a populist promise. Likewise, some have suggested in the blogosphere that voters may have shrugged off bagged PAYT after a few months and Sarno would be praised by commentators for sticking to his guns. Having the courage of your convictions of course did not win Charlie Ryan another two years. Library Commissioner Sheila McElwaine commented on Urban Compass how Sarno has difficulty making and sticking to hard decisions, which may be emblematic of his status as a flip-flopper.

Following political winds was part of the way that former Pres. Bill Clinton remained afloat through turbulent eras. For example, fearing many of the same things opponen
ts of welfare reform had, Clinton was hesitant to support the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act. However, his political analysts told him opposition would be suicide, especially in an election year. So Pres. Clinton, knowing the system needed fixing, crossed his fingers and signed the condescendingly named bill . Luckily enough the naysayers were wrong and although the poverty rate itself has not changed significantly the reform effort has accomplished many of its goals.

The problem with populism is not that the people sometimes get it wrong, but rather that they either can't agree whats right (therefore, what actually is right?) and what seems to be in their interest may not be. This rationale is used by condescending wonks and demagogues from both sides to impose policy upon other people who may or may not know what is best for them. Whether they do or not is not totally relevant. The most important thing is that they are included.

Sarno did not include people in developing this idea and that may prove to be his mortal sin in this fiasco. He still has more than 16 months before he has to face voters. There may yet be more things residents must "stay tuned" for which will forge their ire or breed their love.

In the meantime, residents, Sarno, the City Council, and the Control Board must seriously consider effective policy for waste removal. Notably, NoPolitician, a frequent "commenter" on Springfield matters noted on Urban Compass how the trash fee yields extra money from its least valuable properties. As the the weakness of some housing stock in the city has often been an issue, the trash fee can be plugged into the greater issues affecting the city's finances beyond the raw money it adds to city coffers. It goes to show how much garbage plays a role in our city government and how useful the trash fee has been for cheap trash/politics jokes.

*Image from wikipedia and is in the public domain as property of the Federal Gov't.

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