Imagine if government employees were always friendly and habitually went out of their way to be helpful.
Imagine, if instead of requiring that you follow every rule and regulation, City Hall looked for ways to get you through bureaucratic processes more painlessly; even finding ways to circumvent odious, unreasonable or inapplicable red tape.
That is exactly what is happening in Anaheim.
At a recent meeting of young political staffers in Irvine, Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait spoke about the importance of advancing a kindness culture and regulatory relief. In office for just about a year, Tait is transforming the typical bureaucratic habits of City Hall into an entrepreneurial culture and customer-centric action.
Mayor Tait tells the story about a group of neighbors who wanted to have a Fourth of July parade on their street – an event that the neighbors hoped would create new relationships with the families (of significantly lower incomes) in an adjacent apartment complex.
The parade never got off the ground. The city planning staffer who handled their request informed them in detail of every obstacle (including permits, insurance requirements and public works equipment) required to block off the street. Oh, and don’t forget you’ll need to pay for a police presence…
The next time someone at City Hall gets a call about a small neighborhood parade, Mayor Tait says, “Staff should tell them to have a great time and maybe offer to bring the salsa.”
It is all about the core values of freedom and kindness. If it doesn’t meet the test of both, it probably isn’t a needed – or welcome – policy. Shortly after taking office as mayor, Tait started a regulatory relief taskforce; he wanted to “knock-off ordinances” that prevented job creation. “It is tough for California to compete with Arizona, but we can be the most free, most business friendly city in California,” said Mayor Tait.
Before Mayor Tait took office, an eager businessman submitted plans for a black-and-white themed car wash. City planning staff pushed back and suggested beige and…beige. “I don’t want to be in the business of crushing people’s dreams. Certainly not over theme colors at a job-creating business,” he said.
In addition to eliminating unnecessary laws, he handed down a directive (with the support of his colleagues on the City Council) that the staff was to use the broadest possible interpretation of laws – city staff is actually supposed to help applicants find loopholes, and help residents pay lower fees while meeting minimum interpretations of state and local regulations.
Kindness and the entrepreneurial spirit are not generally ingrained in the training process for people who work for government, so Tait worked to include city staff in the taskforce and in doing so gave them a stake in the process. Now, staff that ‘breaks the rules’ by doing something nice receive praise rather than reprimands.
One example: On a hot summer day, a security guard spotted an elderly resident sitting in the sun, waiting for a ride. The security guard (who worked in a city building nearby) drove the resident home after the resident’s ride failed to show. Under the old rules, the guard would certainly be chastised, probably punished and possibly even fired. Now, he gets a pat on the back and the confidence that he won’t be called out for doing the right thing.
All this is in sharp contrast to the direction the Irvine City Council is taking our city. A recent council decision authorized door-to-door searches for unlicensed pets. This is clearly a solution searching for a problem and a deeply anti-freedom move. Irvine’s Mayor Kang could learn a lot from Mayor Tait.
I asked Mayor Tait if he was promoting his concept to other cities. Half-jokingly, he first said he didn’t want the competition. But he further explained, “I just want Anaheim to be one step ahead of everyone else.”
Adam Probolsky is a Turtle Rock resident and CEO of Probolsky Research LLC, which specializes in opinion research for government, corporate and political clients. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org