The art and method of presentation

After the latest debacle on the municipal ballot with the event center, I thought now might be an excellent time to discuss the art of presentation.

Some say success is all in the timing but timing without presentation sometimes isn’t enough. Agendas often are driven by things out of one’s control, including timing. But one can usually control the method of presentation.

Locally, we have barely finished resolving the latest round of requested tax increases, TABOR realignments and other magical thinking associated with civic development, but it will be a short respite before the drumbeat of other requests for taxpayers dollars begins for the November election.

With that in mind, let’s take a brief look at some of the lessons about the presentation for these requests that we have learned from the great lake of failures and the small stream of successes.

First, it seems people would prefer to be shown that something is in their best interest than pushed, pummeled, dragged and hoodwinked to a conclusion.

I know the common approach on projects laid before taxpayers is that they have neither the time, interest nor patience for complex explanations of the needs of government, so the best approach is presenting your position like an infomercial (“but wait, for the first 50 people that call now…”). If that’s true then something is very wrong and needs to be fixed.

If systems are too complicated for the person paying for and being affected by them to understand, then the whole kit and caboodle needs to be redone, because representative government cannot function that way.

Another approach which has proven unfruitful is portraying opponents as obstinate tightwads, too backward to understand the nuances of the situation. In my case, the first part is probably true but I don’t think it is generally the situation.

Simply put, people are willing to pay for something that has a track record of success somewhere. Simply being told continually that it is a great idea is no substitute for being shown success in similar situations.

At our municipal level, confidence is rather low when it comes to achieving success and managing priorities when discretionary spending, unfortunately, seems to involve roads, basic infrastructure improvement and the proper allocation of public safety funds.

Vital priorities however, are apparently entertainment venues and outside consultants to determine what people actually want, as opposed to what they say they want.

Around here, if you want people to pay for something, you need to show folks the project has run a successful race somewhere before you ask taxpayers to place a bet on that particular horse.

It seems an elementary notion. That I so seldom hear it used makes me guarded to support large expenditures — which over time, will require maintenance, upgrades and staffing challenges — without having seen them tested in the laboratory of real life somewhere.

When it comes to upcoming requests on the ballot, I might observe that most people are very reluctant to pay out more money for more of the same thing.

That is, simply asking for funds because you’re being overwhelmed with the way things are progressing won’t be enough. The question needs to be answered — will the money be used to make changes and increase efficiency or will it simply maintain the status quo, and thereby require even more money someday?

At some point it’s smarter to buy a tractor than just keep buying more horses.

Sometimes, changes are inflicted upon providers and it simply requires more money to comply. I remember in law enforcement when a Supreme Court decision greatly increased the cost of our work. In the 90s there was a mandate shortening the period of time between when a person was arrested and when they had to appear before a magistrate.

That created another level of service for the sheriff’s office to manage and transport more prisoners to the courts, which had to figure out how to comply with the mandate over weekends and holidays. We started video appearances and courts authorized weekend magistrates. Good ideas but not free. The same things were happening in the world; it just was more expensive to manage them.

People will support and fund innovation and preparation to meet challenges beyond local control but become very reluctant to simply re-equip the status quo. They like research, adaptability and willingness to change.

Rick Wagner is a Grand Junction attorney who maintains a political blog, The War on Wrong. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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