Yes change is possible at City Hall... and my Toyota Corolla is no jalopy!

Post Date: Saturday, December 04, 2010
I write a monthly column in the Calgary Herald. Here's the full December story:

It's been almost six weeks since I was sworn in as your mayor, and, so far, it's been an extraordinary experience. I've had the great pleasure of working with an excellent city council team and a motivated city administration, all focused on reinvention of how public services are delivered.

I've also had the opportunity to showcase this amazing city across Canada and around the world, using the story of our election as a springboard to tell the story of Calgary.

And I've learned some lessons -- don't gloss over the word "zipline" in a meeting request. Don't let an overzealous reporter goad you into crowdsourcing your choice on a new car (the Corolla is not a broken-down jalopy, it's a 2005 in very good shape, thank you!) Make sure you're wearing nice shoes at all times.

The most important lesson I've learned, though, is that change is possible. Before I began, the naysayers were legion. You'll never be able to work with that council, they said. They're just too dysfunctional. Administration members are not interested in change. They'll just hide things from you and think that this, too, will pass. Everything is just too complicated to change.

I never believed that, and I still don't. I can't. We have to believe that our city can be better, and that our city government can do better. I'm happy to report that we can, and we will.

Consider the budget this week. We massively increased transit, we improved snow removal, we funded growth to the library, we preserved services for the poor and for the disabled. We got rid of the hated park-and-ride fee.

And we did it all for under five dollars a month to the average house, cutting the proposed tax increase by almost a third.

We're not finished yet. Two sets of further efficiencies are yet to come to council, and the final 2011 tax increase could be as low as four per cent when all is said and done.

This wasn't magic. It was a combination of three things: seeking out the best ideas, asking tough questions, and working together in a spirit of respect, cooperation, and openness.

Rather than seek cursory public input, or none at all, we used multiple methods of communication to actively engage Calgarians as fellow problem-solvers. This brought a broad spectrum of Calgarians to the table, not just those with an axe to grind, but also those genuinely interested in building a better community for themselves and all of their neighbours.

More important, it allowed us to craft a budget that reflects the views and priorities of Calgarians, not just of council members.

We proceeded in a spirit of open inquiry, taking nothing for granted. We asked why things cost what they do, and whether there are better, smarter ways to deliver services.

We did it all in a spirit of collaboration. Unlike previous years, there was no acrimony, no anger and no tears. People won some and lost some, as did I, but we made decisions and we moved forward. We understood that Calgarians don't care about our personal agendas, but about what we can do together.

But the work has only just begun.

This budget was about proving that change can happen, but also about setting us on the right path forward. In 2011, we begin a new three-year business planning cycle. Hidden in that technocratic phrase is a tremendously important opportunity. It's an opportunity for all Calgarians to tell us what they think is important, what services the city should provide, and how we should pay for them.

Over the course of 2011, you will have many opportunities, both formal and informal, to contribute to this process, and I hope you'll take full advantage. Because we need your help. We need you to tell us when we're not focused on your priorities and when we devolve into politics as usual.

In return, my council colleagues and I, along with the 14,000 good people who work for the city, will continue every day making this community better for you.

We will be open, we will be transparent and we will reinvent how services are delivered. We'll build a culture of innovation, where we acknowledge missteps and mistakes without recrimination, and we'll continuously get better at everything we do.

Now that we know change is possible, we know everything is, for city council and for Calgary.

- Mayor Nenshi