So You Get Elected…?

My Daughter, Striking a pose.Soon the euphoria of victory is finally in its death throes. The surge of supporters claiming paternity to the poll success is now trickling in and may soon dry up. The hangover has taken over, and the adrenaline is no longer there. It is now getting down to serious business.

Mayors and Governors are local chief executives. They are like the chief executive officers of a corporation. Of course, most of the elected officials pride themselves of adequate experience and training prior to running that makes the LCE position a walk in the park.

But not all LCEs are created or born equal. Some have training in other fields like legislation or are policy wonks. Some are in technical professions or the sciences, or simply, a few are clueless or plain dodos. As one wise man said, “nation building is too serious a business to be left to the people alone”

APPOINTMENT WITH THE CONSULTANTS

Calling the consultants to a conference is the best first order of the day. Over lunch or dinner or an extended blow out, ask this small council of elders their collective opinion on how to approach the job. Make sure that you have an economist, an academic, a spiritual adviser, an engineer, a health worker, a peace and order expert, or a lawyer. If your LGU has no experts as mentioned you may consult your parish priest or pastor, the town doctor, the school principal, the chief of police, or the town judge or equivalent professionals.

This group of men/women could input the needed general direction of your administration. Fix your policy mission and your vision for your town, city, or province. Remember that you did not seek the office for prestige or livelihood or proving yourself. You were elected to serve and fulfill a public trust.

CALL THE TREASURER, ACCOUNTANT, AND BUDGET OFFICER

Once you have formulated your general travel itinerary or approach to governance culled from your selected esteemed advisers, the next step is for you to call the LGU’s logistics experts: the treasurer, the accountant, and the budget officer. They make up for the most part the local finance committee.

You have to be realistic. You can only actualize your plans and objectives when you have enough funds to back them up. Funds, you must remember, are not infinite assets. They dry up at the end of the fiscal year, or even earlier in case the executive does not know how to optimize a limited resource.

Ask them the financial landscape of the LGU.

Tayabas CapitolAnnualy the Internal Revenue Allotment comes. Thanks to local autonomy. But the challenge of good governance in not on reliance but creativity. Ask first the finance heads how much is the income of the LGU from other sources aside from the IRA. You may also ask the input of the Local Assessor on the bulk of assessed assets in the locality. You will have a picture of the annual collections from the real property tax. Ask them why collections are southward or northward. Tell them to formulate immediate remedies in the event of dismal collections under the law and regulations. The treasurer has the data of the LGU’s wherewithal from licenses, business taxes and other levies available to the LGU under the local autonomy law. LGUs have assets, in their proprietary capacity also being operated by management or directly by the LGUs themselves like terminals, public markets, batching plants, resorts and hotels, recreation facilities, etc. Review the incomes from these profit centers. Certainly there are rooms for improvement.

An LGU has savings.

Ask the Treasurer where and how much is the savings. Where are the savings deposited? How much does the LGU earn in interest?

Ask the debts.

It is now fashionable for LGUs to incur liabilities to finance developmental projects. The key to approval is that these so called developmental projects are self-financed. LGUs have learned the art of bond flotation. Some finance wizards approach the local chief and offer the latest in self-liquidating projects like hospitals, public markets, toll ways, mini-hydros, terminals and the like. Not only are these finance packages managed by the fund managers, but they also play the role of contractors. Thanks to local autonomy, LGUs now are neck-deep in debt. They pledge their Internal Revenue Allotment. Debt repayment of course reduces the budget. Under these situations, the management mettle of the LCE comes in handy.

SUMMON THE HEADS OF OFFICES

The next order of the day is to call all the heads of offices. You might as well brush up with the Local Government Code, the bible of LCEs. All the answers are there. All you have to do is look. A lawyer may come in handy to clear out the nuances.

Be wary of your chiefs of offices. They are ahead of you in the LGU and they pride themselves of their expertise and security of tenure. Of course, some of them are your avid supporters andthey expect you to treat them with kid gloves. Some look at you with distrust as some traveler who is just passing thru. Remember that you can only stay the maximum of nine years assuming that you get reelectedm while these bureaucrats are where you find them seated for decades and waiting for retirement.

Prior to the meeting ask them to give you briefs of their department’s short and long term plans. Assign someone, usually your administrator, to collate these summaries and come up with a general approach of your own short and long term plans.

Be on the look out with the smart-alecky or holdouts of your predecessor who is out to throw a monkey wrench to your renderings.

Impress upon them that for the next thirty six months you are the boss and not the other way around. Remember that you have the power to initiate administrative investigations of erring appointed officials and order their preventive suspension. As manager, the civil service rules allow you to second a department chief or transfer or simply float them. Where the offense is grave, you can bind over the case to the Ombudsman or the Civil Service Commission and seek their termination. While this is desirable, create the impression of being a tough but gentle leader. You are there not to create more enemies. Again, remember you are now the patriarch/matriarch of the LGU. Nothing is wrong in exuding the aura of a Mahatma. Nothing is wrong either where you seem to smell like Idi Amin.

Make the meeting an initial getting-to-know-you. Be observant. These are about a dozen individual with peculiar work habits. Look for factions within them. Try to decipher their body language. There are those who are intelligent, dumb, or simply lazy heads of office. Try to classify them into categories: those who deliver, the sycophants, the rumor-mongers and the like. You will be surprised to find the rumor-mongers useful in some departments or special projects. In other words, a leader is tested on how he maximizes the talent of his subordinates.

Be an attentive listener. Do not monopolize the discussion. You might betray yourself by opening your mouth. You are there to gather data and learn insight of their departments and get an over all picture of the LGU. Right decision making is not far ahead. Give them a general idea of your work ethic. You must set an example.

FIX A MEETING WITH THE SANGGUNIAN

This is a ticklish part of your approach. A meeting with the presiding officer and the members of the Sanggunian is a test of wills. Remember that you are talking with elected representatives who do not owe you anything. Even if a Sanggunian member gets elected under your tutelage or support, still he has some exaggerated perception of himself. We are reminded of what Richard Nixon said “An iron rule exists in politics: A winning candidate believes that he won it on his own; a losing candidate will always feel a debt of gratitude for anyone who tries to help him when he is almost certain to lose“. To him his vote in the legislative board is crucial. As a general rule, a leader who personally persuades, prevails. Avoid, when necessary, tasking a go-between in hectoring a legislative agenda. The Sanggunian or the media interprets the appointment as designation of a bagman.

There is quite no problem if the presiding officer is your running mate. If the presiding officer comes from the rival party, he might put a distance from you because he is your prospective opponent next election. Or he is under advisement by your routed poll foe. He might give you trouble by delaying his attestation on some vital local legislation or mangle the weekly agenda. This is on the assumption that he also has a following in the Sanggunian. If he is by his lonesome, then he becomes your hostage by limiting his budget that makes him immovable and therefore politically ineffective. His threat ceases.

Project an intention of forging unity leadership.

Do not engage in small political talk that might offend some members. Protect the institution or your office. The mix of the Sanggunian is varied. Remember that the election fever has not totally subsided yet. The loss of their leader to you is a sensitive topic. Reach out to them. Court them with the 20% development fund. Entice them with the prospect of sharing the discretionary fund in exchange of their cooperation or loyalty. Tell them you are not buying them, just renting.

The Sanggunian holds the power of the purse. The member appears more powerful than the presiding officer. The former, if he has kindred souls in the council, can shift the course of the deliberative body for or against you, while the latter merely presides the meeting. Unless he relinquishes his post temporarily, the presiding officer can not dish out any comment, observation or argument on a pending incident while sitting as such. Be on the look out with lone rangers or loose cannons. This type of local solon has a bloated perception of himself. His take on his victory is instruction from the people to filibuster or obstruct.

Count your allies. Try to forge a majority. Appoint someone of their confidence to distribute the committee chairmanships and membership. There are sensitive committees that should be manned by your allies. Try to stack the finance, ways and means, health, education, public works, and good government committees with your own people. Otherwise, your legislative agenda gets aborted. If you find yourself without any sympathizers in the Sanggunian, do not despair. You have the resources of your office that you can dangle in exchange of their help. This is a test to your leadership pluck as well.

Assure them that this is not the first and last meeting with them. Leave a lasting impression. A regular fellowship with the Sanggunian is a must. It is an opportunity to lobby with them your urgent agenda.

Do not treat the Sanggunian patronizingly. The Board is a co-equal and coordinate office of the executive.

TALK TO THE OTHER LCEs UNDER YOU

If you are the governor we are talking about the Mayors. If you are the City or municipal mayor, you have the barangay captains under you.

By conferring with the local executives under your jurisdiction, you will get the big picture of the LGU. Each LGU under your territory presents peculiar problems and on positive note, possibilities. Expect from these local leaders incredible demands for funds. You will be faced with constant complaints of dearth of financial wherewithal, and failing to get prompt results, they say double entendres of withdrawing loyalty from you. Despair not. All you have to do is explain to them the financial condition of the bigger LGU. Tell them the sources of your revenue and the annual expenditures. Prioritizing local projects is an art in itself. Some LGUs under you are sitting on piles of cash. They have mining rights, industrial zones, tourist spots, or power plants. Convince them to review their tax codes or approach to outside investors. Make your LGU a haven for employment.

In not so many words ask your mayors or barangay captains to be imaginative in creating local revenues. The local code sets the parameters of the taxation and revenue powers of the respective LGUs. Periodic seminars are helpful in expanding their focal horizon. This is also a chance for camaraderie.

The mayors and barangay chiefs are your immediate allies in pushing the development in your LGU.

REACH OUT TO YOUR POLITICAL OPPONENTS

Make time to reach out to your erstwhile political rivals.

Be magnanimous in victory. Ask their assistance in running the affairs of the LGU without sounding triumphalistic. In 36 months he might be opposing you again. Our people are an intelligent lot. They wield the big stick by letting you eat humble pie the next time.

GO BACK TO THE PEOPLE

You go hunting where the ducks are.

After you have met all those who matter in decision making and setting your developmental goals, you have to go back from the source of your appointment: the people. Touch base with your supporters. There is no more satisfying meeting than with the simple folks who idolize you and look up to you as their hero.

In her memoirs, Katharine Graham, the Washington Post publisher, recounted the following story:

When, at last, (President) Lyndon B. Johnson did get up to leave and we were all standing, he told a final story, filled with friendly feeling. The story was about (House Speaker) Sam Rayburn, at the beginning of his political career and still an unknown young man, looking for a place to stay in a small Texas town. Everyone turned him down – all the important people, including the bankers, the newspaper editor, and the judge. Only an old blacksmith agreed to take him in for the night. Much later, now famous and powerful, Rayburn returned to the town, this time with everyone wanting him. He told them all no and asked for the old blacksmith. The two of them stayed up very late talking, and when Rayburn finally said he had to get to sleep, the blacksmith said, “Mr. Sam, I’d just like to talk to you all night.” (Personal History, pp. 438-439)

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