Process is the most overlooked aspect of successfully functioning entities. This is true in the business world, at universities and within all levels of government. Individuals and groups must know what is expected of them and have a viable path toward meeting those expectations in order to coexist, let alone prosper.
The need for better processes has been painfully obvious for years in the relationship between the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority and city council. This fractured relationship blew up last month in a public hearing about redevelopment of the Ramsey Homes property, leading to recriminations all around. The level of discourse was simply unacceptable.
Council’s decision essentially to push the reset button on the issue at a legislative session two weeks ago gave all parties the time to step back, cool off and try to do better. It appears they were successful, as city councilors and ARHA agreed Tuesday to a framework for cooperation not only on Ramsey Homes, but on future redevelopment projects as well.
Under the agreement, city and ARHA staff will work more closely together on Ramsey Homes. In addition, the joint council-ARHA work group will meet more often to measure progress as a plan for the Ramsey site is developed. This plan, while providing a way forward, also pushes a final decision on Ramsey back to the fall.
We agree with City Councilor Paul Smedberg that a formal agreement shouldn’t be necessary to make city and ARHA staff work together. But the reality is that sometimes an explicit and basic process is what’s required.
Process is not a panacea, but at times it can really help.
Sometimes, a successful process is de facto, like in a well-functioning marriage where the partners naturally assume complementary roles. One person likes cooking more, while the other gladly does dishes in exchange for not having to cook.
But in other relationships, expectations must be codified. Perhaps both parents have demanding jobs or neither person likes to clean. Without an agreed upon plan of action, the relationship is likely to derail.
But processes cannot make up for a lack of good will to make the relationship succeed. Whether in a marriage or a workplace, if one party is not committed to working with the other, even the best process will prove insufficient.
There’s actually an example in city government of how improved process has turned around a negative situation. In 2011, Alexandria City Public Schools had significant issues with irregularities in its capital improvement department, where there was insufficient oversight over how money was being handled. Council and ACPS subsequently worked closely together to implement oversight mechanisms, including reinstituting a budget and audit committee. Those processes seem to have resolved the problem.
Tuesday’s plan for moving forward is not sufficient on its own to mend the relationship between council and ARHA — but it is a necessary first step. The coming months will reveal how committed both sides are to not just resolving the Ramsey Homes issue, but to mending the bodies’ fractured relationship.