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Harlan: Slow down and focus on the details

June 30, 2012|By Jeffrey Harlan

In Poor Richard's Almanack, Benjamin Franklin popularized the idiom we love to quote but have a difficult time applying to our daily lives: Haste makes waste.

As children, we frequently heard this admonition from parents and teachers. Take your time, do it right the first time. With math teachers, in particular, it was often followed by another directive: Show your work.

But we are busy people, and it's rare to focus on one task at a time. One of my friends lamented recently that, with a full schedule of work, tending to three children and trying to keep her home livable (let alone clean), she has a hard time just "being in the moment."

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Not surprisingly, there are formal movements aimed at helping us slow down and being more present in our lives. Slow food, slow eating, the slow home, even the slow city. The common idea is to act thoughtfully and deliberately. Do things carefully, do them right and enjoy them.

Governance is a slow process. We have rules and procedures to ensure that the public has a voice in the process and that our leaders act fairly and rationally. Of course, in some instances the criticism that government moves too slowly is warranted.

But when considering drastic changes to city operations or proposing an unprecedented approach to managing public assets, the need for thoughtful deliberation, community support and measured action is paramount.

Consider the Costa Mesa City Council majority's botched outsourcing scheme, the fast-tracked charter proposal and the proposed privatization of the TeWinkle Park athletic complex.

Regardless of whether outsourcing city jobs was the right policy choice for Costa Mesa, the council decided to take action before it conducted its due diligence.

An initiative of this scale and complexity required the utmost attention to detail. Had the council recognized that, it would have discovered its own policy about the procedure for outsourcing, and followed the then-city attorney's advice. This was not a mere technicality to be ignored; ultimately, it may prove to be the scheme's fatal flaw.

The result of this carelessness is a hefty (and growing) legal bill for litigation that could have been avoided. By the city's accounting, we've spent more than $800,000 through this April.

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