Running Government the Right Way.
During most of the 1970s, I was in the Honolulu municipal government as head of the Office of Information and Complaint. I was appointed to the job by the mayor at that time, Frank Fasi. He was an Italian from East Hartford, Connecticut, who came through Honolulu en route to the South Pacific as a Marine Corps officer during World War II. When the war ended, Frank headed home, got as far as Honolulu, and stayed. He started a business, got into politics and was elected mayor in 1969.
Frank had a thoroughly pragmatic approach to being Honolulu’s mayor. He often said, “Good government is good politics.” In other words, if the city government ran efficiently, if we responded to the needs of our citizens quickly and effectively, his re-election campaigns would take care of themselves.
That sure made sense to me, so when I took over as head of what was, in effect, the city’s complaint department, we shifted focus. Instead of filling out lengthy forms and keeping meticulous records of every complaint or request for service, we shifted the focus to speed. We ditched most of the paperwork and whenever possible we took care of things by phone. My staff loved it; the public loved it, and the word started circulating.
Most complaints are, in fact, minor and easily fixed: a pothole in the middle of a busy intersection, a streetlight shining into someone’s bedroom, a junk car abandoned in front of their house. All fixed quickly and easily with a phone call to the right person in the right department. It didn’t take very long for the various department and division heads to learn that if my phone call didn’t get a response, they would be getting a second call from an irate mayor. It’s amazing how much I was able to get done because those folks didn’t want to get that second phone call.
Frank knew how to get things done. In fact, I often heard him say that the only way to effectively run a big bureaucracy—whether public or private—is to spend 10-percent of your time deciding what needed doing and 90-percent of your time whipping people across the backside to make it happen.
The interesting thing is that the people in the trenches—the unionized civil service city employees—loved working like that. And the people of Honolulu appreciated the way their city was being run. I know that’s true because Frank Fasi ran the City & County of Honolulu for 22 years and to this day is remembered as the best mayor Honolulu ever had.