To list, or not to list, that is the question.
As The Gazette’s Rick Smith reported last week, there’s some skittishness in City Hall over the idea of releasing a list of the city’s worst streets ahead of November’s vote on a local-option sales tax for street projects. I’ve heard similar concerns from city officials.
Apparently, there is some debate between the skittish, who worry that listing streets will turn off voters who do not see the streets they care most about on such a list, and those who think the city should just lay all its cards on the table.
The easy tiebreaker, in my mind, is the fact that a lot of this stuff is public information, including a condition report on about 580 miles of the city’s streets done back in 2009-10. It seems clear that the city is obligated to provide the critical information that informs its streets decisions. I also think the city is better off giving voters full access to that stuff. If you made a list of attributes people want in their government, “honesty” ranks far above “skittish.”
City Manager Jeff Pomeranz says he agrees. There will be lists.
“We’re happy to release those lists. In fact, they’re public information,” he said. “It’s just that this effort goes way beyond fixing a street or reconstructing a street that’s in our (capital improvements plan) or is on a prior list that was drawn up five years ago. This is about fixing all the streets in Cedar Rapids that need help.
“We want to be transparent. We want to be open,” Pomeranz said.
The city’s challenge will be to quench a thirst for detail without letting lists obscure the big picture.
The challenge for voters will be to live with the reality that it’s unrealistic to expect city leaders to make very specific promises on specific projects over a 10-year period. Personally, I think the city would be wise to offer plans for year one, and maybe year two, of the tax extension, as a gesture of good faith. But beyond that, it will be elected leaders who make those calls.
That’s what they’re elected to do, by those residents who bother showing up to vote. Far fewer folks show up to watch the council craft annual budget plans where those important lists get made.
Six City Council seats are on the ballot alongside the tax issue in November. Depending on who files petitions to run by the end of this month, a majority of the council’s nine seats could be at stake. Voters have a remarkable amount of clout in this saga, if they choose to use it. Put it on your to-do list.