Ask Pat: Pier Park shade

Liz D asks—

Hey Pat, the New West Moms Group (#NWMG) loves Pier Park for the playground and sandbox and grassy space by the parking lot, but it is in dire need of some shade. Any chance some umbrellas or something can be added? Thanks!

Yikes! I’ve seen the #NWMG button on a lapel or two, I’ve heard rumours, but not being a Mom (and my Mom not living in #NewWest), this is my first personal encounter with this shadowy cabal…

So here’s the deal: you are probably asking the wrong guy. I can suggest such a thing to Parks staff, and they can let me know how much it would cost to do it, and if it is totally within some discretionary budget and fits the larger Parks plan, then it can probably happen pretty quick. But in that case it is just as likely to happen if you contact Parks folks yourself. It seems like one of those obvious ideas to make the park easier for people to use, and they can add it to their capital plan for improvements/maintenance on the park.

PCR have a great Contact form here that makes it easy for you to drop them suggestions like this:

Now, this might raise the question: if I am a Big-shot Councillor, why don’t I just tell them to do this? What use am I? The answer is that I am still working out this entire being-a-politician thing, and I am still trying to figure out where my boundaries are, and where they should be, when asking staff to do things. And that probably takes a longer explanation.

There are obvious times when asking staff to do stuff is totally within bounds. I have asked staff to do administrative tasks related to my role as Councillor – dig out old reports for me, explain to me how a current policy works, reply to official correspondence, coordinate meeting schedules, etc. I have even given (and received) a fair number of opinions about what we should or shouldn’t be doing as a City. This is all obvious and above the board.

There is another level of asking staff to do stuff that is rather out of bounds: I cannot directly ask staff to change City policy or provide a direct service to me or my neighbour, or move their paving schedule or shift how parks operate. Directly asking staff for (as an example) specific roads to be paved is outside of the legislative power of a single Councillor, and is (IMO) a shitty way to wield influence. I just don’t think that is my role as an elected official, and to do so messes up the entire organization structure of how a complicated corporation like a City should work.

The sticky area in between is when someone convinces me (to continue the example) a road needs to be paved. At this point, I think the right path for me to address this is to get the person who wants it paved to write official correspondence to the City making the request (or send in a SeeClickFix). I can follow up and get clarity from the Engineering Department about what the paving schedule is, where that road is on the calendar, and can, in an extreme case, ask staff to go look at a road I am concerned about and make sure their assessment of it is still accurate. They may agree with me, or they may not, but I cannot (and should not) as a single elected official try to unilaterally override their professional opinion. That is bad for the organization.

However, just like I can sometimes be wrong, so can (again, only for this example) Engineering staff. If I feel this is the case, the proper path for me to try to change their mind is to take the idea to my Council colleagues, through Committees and/or Council Meetings. If I can convince the majority of Council to override the existing paving schedule to fix my favoured road first, then at least we have done it publically, any implied conflict is open and transparent, and Council can take the political flak or credit for it.

Now, this example is embarrassingly simplistic, and there are other paths a Councillor can take to make change in the City, but I am still new enough and idealistic enough to think that for me to give orders to staff that includes changing policy or spending money that would otherwise be allocated for other purposes, it needs to go through Council. What a newb.

So much like an earlier Ask Pat request regarding baby change tables at Pier Park, I think it is a good idea, am happy to suggest it to staff, am making no promises, and request that you make the same suggestion directly to Parks!

Thanks Mom.

5 comments on “Ask Pat: Pier Park shade

  1. Interesting question, Kay. This blog is from all three “Pats” below – Councillor, human, and rabble-rouser. It is mostly opinions, and I can’t separate the three all that well. Oh, god, did I just use my own name in the third person?

    That said, nothing in this blog should be considered “official communications” from the City or Council. I am only one member of a Council of 7, and I cannot speak on their behalf. I know some of them read this, because I occasionally get the gears from them over something I write, but I never discuss what I am going to write beforehand – I’m just not that organized, and do most of my writing after 10:00 at night. I’m also pretty sure the City’s communications staff occasionally open this blog with some trepidation for the very same reason…

  2. Thanks Pat. Loved the civic lesson part of this! I’m part of the shadowy cabal of #NWMG and I have emailed City staff about it (before this blog). Response I got was positive and that something might be able to happen for next year. I included feedback from #NWMG on where shade sails could/should go.

    1. Thanks Laura. I tried not to make it too “civics lecture”, but more “I’m still trying to figure this stuff out, but I kinda think…”

      Besides, we all know #NWMG is more powerful than any mere City Councillor.

      1. We’ll see! I copied and posted the long thread of support for the idea of shade into the email to give the staff person a feel for the level of support 😉 (blacking out the names of course). Also: I actually think it’s really helpful to explain how Council/relationship to staff should work.

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