Transparency is a surprisingly big issue in local politics and it has a lot to with how local councillors have interpreted their roles over the years, that is to say mainly as some kind of complicated messenger boys.
The keepers and distributors of forms; the printers of vague official answers to generic questions; the endless naggers of officials to do that one thing (like fix one pothole) they said they'd do three months ago.
Councillors are not lying when they say they work a lot: dealing with these issues can eat up a huge amount of your time. But it is extremely inefficient and it could all be done a lot more transparently, which would free up time for other activities.
I think a lot of people don't want this, because they've become addicted to being that middleman and they encourage people to vote for them based on this: I got that particular streetlamp fixed, vote for me; I got that tree trimmed, vote for me, etc., etc.
Don't get me wrong: I have my own complete file of overgrown trees, broken fences, and footpaths from hell, complete with photographic evidence.
And I nag county officials to deal with this. I nag and I nag and I nag and I nag, and I check back with the person who made the complaint to see if anyone did anything and then (provided they haven't died in the meantime) I nag some more.
I'd say you can easily invest 10 hours of nag time over one tree. I've occasionally just considered pre-recording my nags for various topics, it's that bad.
Now, this is not good for me, because I really, really hate nagging. I am a 'told you once' kind of person.
If only there were some way to do this that would empower people directly and take this middleman necessity out of the game.
Well, it turns out there are: for one thing we could upgrade the County Council website (which badly needs an overhaul), so that people could just find the information they are looking for on there, rather than give up in bewildered despair.
For another we could get things like FixMyStreet/FixYourStreet actually working - as in officials should respond to everything that get's posted there. Every complaint should go on a list and get worked down in order, barring some particular urgency (like public safety). Even if the response is going to be a: 'sorry - we're not doing XYZ because of ABC', that's fine, if those are the rules then it actually helps people to learn what the rules are, because it saves a lot of time in the future. But chasing the Council for weeks if not months over minor items like dead trees is a phenomenal waste of everyone's time.
My vision is: you log something on FixMyStreet and get an automatic email with a reference number and an estimated timeline for dealing with it. At the same time, your complaint goes directly to the appropriate official. They send you a response on how and why they dealt with your complaint within the timeframe you were given. If, for some reason it takes longer, they send you that info with a new timeframe.
This saves you nagging and it also saves the Council workers all of the time they use up dealing with people nagging (probably in some cases more time than it would take to just deal with the issue).
Yet another issue is: being honest about project delivery deadlines. If something is going to be completed in say: May 2019 then say 'May 2019'. Do NOT say 'May 2017, no September 2017, no January 2018, no March 2018, etc...'
This is actually one of the biggest jokes with people while canvassing. Sometimes they ask about this, and I can only give them the latest update, but I always insert the caveat: seriously, don't set your watch by this, and then we share a rueful laugh, because everyone knows how bad this is and that no one is being straight with them.
Sure there's sometimes a bit of unavoidable slippage on delivery...but not this much. Not unless your subcontractor or government department willfully lied to you in the first place or was completely incompetent in their estimates, things for which there need to be consequences.
So, transparent delivery timelines that we either stick to or there had better be a really good reason why not are a priority.
Yet another thing I would like to do is participatory budgeting (I talk about this in my flier, and it's been one of my major areas of work as a participatory democracy advocate over the years) because that allows people to prioritize where money gets spent. It means people can clearly see what we've agreed to do now. Then next year, we can decide what to do then.
That's why I did Fuller Democracy over the previous two years, even though I wasn't elected. It's given me a clear platform.
Finally, the last issue on transparency: corruption. I get requests from people who ask me to help them out with various tasks and I do it if it's something quite major that I know is going to be hard for them to handle on their own, or if I feel that their case has genuinely been neglected (in other words that they haven't been accorded fair treatment).
But what I hate is: 'hey, I have an issue and I'm hoping you can 'use your contacts' in the Council to help me queue jump. In return for that I'll vote for you'.
Well, that's not very fair, is it?
Indeed, that is basically vote-buying.
But I think we all know this is how Irish politics works. I've seen all kinds of stories about how the loving politician intervened for someone specific who has now pledged their undying loyalty to them.
And I always wonder: what person got kicked out of the queue to make way for them?
I mean, someone had to pay for this, right?
The councillor got you a social house? Interesting - who got shoved off the list then?
It is my conviction (and I rarely get thanked for this) that the Council should treat everyone fairly. When things are bad, then they need to be fixed, but by allowing the select few to pull strings, this does not fix the problem - it makes it worse.
It's like as if you had a healthcare system with long waiting times - the answer is not 'let some people skip the queue because they know someone important'. It is 'fix the problems and lower the waiting times. For everyone.'
As I said, I do help people who I feel have a genuine case of being treated shabbily, but I don't get thanked much for operating like this. Indeed, I'm sure it's hurt me tremendously, because some people get really angry when I fail to immediately shove them to the front of the queue (or pretend to, anyway, I have my doubts as to how well this even works).
But until things change, we're going to be living in a society where these 'special' people get all of their needs met in exchange for propping up politicians and that comes at the expense of everyone else.
That's why this somewhat abstract topic of transparency is so important. It affects everything else.
Issue #10: Transparency