Parked in a Legitimacy Gap: Why The Georgetown Parking Meters Controversy is a Political Millstone

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By: Vivian M. Williams, Esq., LL.M

The municipality, except for a renegade Deputy Mayor, says the introduction of parking meters in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city, is a necessary leap into modernization. The Private sector, citizens, and activists call the move inhumane, callous, corrupt and a blight on a struggling economy. This gap between what the City thinks of the initiative and stakeholders’ opinion, is know as a legitimacy gap. It shouldn’t take much brainstorming to recognize that The City  Council is in the grip of a legitimacy gap that is widening with each passing day. The failure to properly manage the crisis would have already cost Mayor, Patricia Chase-Green her job in a normal democracy. If the Mayor and her Councillors recognize that a legitimacy gap is a serious threat to their viability, they would act more decisively to bridge the gap. They seem quite comfortable, parked in the quagmire.

StoneWalling and Counter Protest Add Fuel to the Fire

The only sustainable solution to a crisis forged  out of a legitimacy gap is to bridge the gap through informed persuasion. The Council eschewed this approach, instead, hunkering down with some old- fashioned stonewalling, recoiling in secrecy. As speculation spread about what is contained in the heavily guarded contract, the issue developed into a wicked problem. The City has allowed opponents of the project to spin the issue out of control. The project is now ensnared in legal action and protest that resulted in its suspension.

Stonewalling and counter-protesting might be useful strategies in some circumstances but when there is a legitimacy gap, they are not helpful. More meaningful engagement was needed to bridge the public opinion gap. The decision to hide behind secrecy and shout down opponents created a crisis of trust and fanned the flames of resistance. Keeping the details of the contract under lock and key is a blunder that added fuel to the fire. As soon as signs of uneasiness with the terms of the contract emerged, the City should have addressed issues pertaining to the terms of the contract with clarity, consistency and transparency.

It is not too late for Mayor Chase-Green and her Council to recognize that a legitimacy gap is created by differences in facts, values, or policy. Some times if you fill the information vacuum the problem goes away. The Mayor allowed her opponents to fill the information vacuum she created, with what she calls misinformation while she recoils in secrecy. She blames her renegade Deputy Mayor for the confusion, but the Council created and nurtured the ideal condition for a misinformation campaign to undermine its effort.

The parking meter issue emerged in mid 2016, not as an outright rejection of the introduction of paid parking in the City but rather, there was dissatisfaction with the manner in which the contract was entered into.  At this early stage, Mayor Chase-Green could have extinguished the controversy by adopting a more transparent and accountable approach. What the Council did instead, was put the lid on transparency and accountability,  deepening the crisis.

Responding to protest with counter-protest is a clear indication of a lack of understanding of the problem. A combative stance doesn’t help to bridge a public opinion gap. It helps to fortify existing public opinion and widens the legitimacy gap rather than create movement towards consensus. The refusal by the Council to have a high level spokesperson present at a public forum held on February 18, 2017 to address public concern, is another indication of the adoption of old-school tactics that are not relevant today, at least not when a legitimacy crisis is brewing. It the failure to apply elementary crisis management principles that has caused the City to park itself in a legitimacy gap.

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DUE PROCESS AND THE PRESERVATION OF THE RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE

When a movement by the people, for the people rises up to challenge Executive excesses, it is important that it pursues its goals without compromising individual rights and guarantees. The inadvertent dismantling of constitutional guarantees could be more detrimental than the impact of a cause that gives birth to a movement.

The law suit against the Mayor, Councillors of Georgetown and Town Clerk to void the Parking Meter Contract, brings the issues of preserving guarantees while pursuing rights, into sharp focus.

The suit against the City excludes the company that entered into a public/private partnership and holds the contract with the City. As a party to the contract, Smart City Solutions has a vested interest in the outcome of the litigation and is entitled to constitutional protection of due process. It is therefore, a necessary and indispensable party.

A party is indispensable when his rights are so connected with the claims of the litigants that no order can be made without impairing such rights. Necessary parties are those whose presence, while not indispensable, is essential if the Court is to completely resolve the controversy before it and render complete relief. Should an absent party be necessary or indispensable that party must be joined for the court to have jurisdiction.

Smart City Solutions has a legally protected interest in protecting its property interest in the contract and its investment in the project. Any judgment that substantially impacts the contract would be unenforceable and unconstitutional as against Smart City Solution which is not a party to the action. Anything to the contrary would be an appalling affront to the principle of due process of law which the movement by the people, for the people, should not be championing. Here is a question to consider:

If an injunction or order is issued against the Mayor and City Council could Smart City Solutions which is not a party to the action be held in contempt if it engages in conduct that is contrary to an order or judgment that is not directed to it, in proceedings that it was excluded from?

Failure to CONSIDER the Circumstances of the Time

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Unemployment Rate in Georgetown was sky high when coalition government took office. Chart tabulated from official government data

Parking meters will extract fees from a population that is struggling to make ends meet. When the new government took office, unemployment in some of the most affluent areas in Georgetown, was sky-high. Data tabulated from official government records reveal an almost 50 percent unemployment rate in areas such as Tucville, where the Council and the ruling coalition draw solid support. In Queenstown, unemployment was pegged at 44 percent when the Coalition took office.

Mayor Chase-Green is adamant that she is moving the city in the right direction but the introduction of parking meters comes at a time when there seems to be consensus that the economy is struggling. The project could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for struggling families. It highlights a fundamental flaw in the way the coalition government handled the transition of power from its predecessor. It failed to properly benchmark the state in which it took over the country. Though a series of audits were conducted, the findings were not used to highlight the state of economic fundamentals.

The new government focused on numbers instead of paying attention to the economic fundamentals and key performance indicators. Instead of going beyond the numbers to craft a qualitative message that emphasized weaknesses in the economic fundamentals, it got carried away with campaign rhetoric. Consequently, the government failed to make the case to the people that it assumed the reigns of power under challenging times. It has failed to make the case to its constituency to buckle up for tough times and make a passionate plea for patience in times of challenges. Mere resort to slogans such as “a good life for all” is not enough in tough times. To be effective, elected officials must craft and properly articulate a clear vision for prosperity that resonate with the people.

Under the circumstances, the adoption of a bombastic approach with a top-down communications approach, resulted in the City Council being viewed as insensitive to the plight of the people. This resulted in ridicule of the Mayor. If the Council had effectively marketed a new vision of a prosperous and modernized city, using informed persuasion and collaborative sensemaking, the parking meter project would have been in better shape. The controversy was brewing for almost a year before the implementation of the project, yet the City and its private partner seem to have no crisis management plan. Worse yet, no effective crisis communication strategy has been displayed. They are just parked in a legitimacy gap, waiting to be clamped or perhaps booted by the people.

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