November 16, 2016 Tas Britas

Have I kept my campaign promises?

Some time ago I rated the new Mayor’s wins and fails, and I promised to rate my own. Today someone reminded me that I forgot to do that. Fail!

What about my other promises? How many did I keep? It’s a fair question.

So, darling voters, here we go.

I published my program before the elections and listed six priorities. My priorities were nightlife, bureaucracy, minorities, education, growth and defence.

Here they all are, with links to the stuff I’ve been doing for you since April 2015. Read and let me know how I’m doing 🙂

Nightlife

This was the main reason I was elected, and many of my voters know me from the events I organised over many years, so I feel a big responsibility to work on this. It’s priority number one.

After the elections, I started pushing the idea of a Night Mayor for Vilnius, to act as a bridge between the nightlife industry and the politicians who don’t really understand nightlife. The idea was originally born in Amsterdam and spread to other cities, and recently spread to London. I’ve worked hard to develop the concept for Vilnius, and it looks like soon something will happen 🙂 Stay tuned. If it happens, I’ll have more influence to make Vilnius nightlife even better than it already is.

I tried very hard to help reform the taxi regulations, so you can get home safely at night. Hopefully the pressure I applied had some effect, but I can’t say I have scored any big wins. Taxis are generally better than they were, but that’s maybe due to apps like Uber (which is not a taxi) and Taxify or e-Taksi. Also, there are many things that local government can’t fix, because the rules are made at national level. And we can’t fix the airport taxis because they are not controlled by the Municipality, and the Airport doesn’t seem to be moving very fast. Let’s hope the new Transport Ministry will help. Maybe.

I still think some taxi companies are getting away with breaking the regulations too much, and I know it would be easy to enforce them more strictly, but there seems to be some kind of unwritten rule to just turn a blind eye. Also I was assaulted by a taxi driver when I tried to photograph him breaking the rules, so obviously we haven’t cleaned up that industry yet. At least we’ve got some night buses now, that’s a step towards a more 24-hour city centre.

One of the main issues is noise pollution from bars and clubs. I’ve been working on ways to rewrite the rules so they are more transparent and balance the interests of all residents. For outdoor events I want to set a limit on the size of the sound system, and allow events until midnight at weekends. We’re working on ways to make this happen in legalspeak.

The biggest win was when I managed to run round the building and convince my colleagues to oppose Mykolas Majauskas when he tried to stop a bar opening. He didn’t have any legal reason to stop the bar, and his proposal was simply against Constitutional principles. He just wanted to complain about alcohol and noise generally as part of his election campaign, and he started making stupid suggestions like closing at 6, or limiting the number of alcohol licenses in the city to a certain number. For no logical reason. This led to the best debate I have ever seen in the Council, where people attacked and defended the Constitution and Councillors were actually listening and changing their minds according to the speeches. Thanks to support from people like Aušrinė Armonaitė, Vaidotas IlgiusAušra Maldeikienė and even Jaroslav Kaminski, Majauskas lost the vote and the bar was given a licence. Guess what – when the bar opened there was no apocalypse.

Bureaucracy

God knows I hate unnecessary bureaucracy and I hate politicians’ attempts to control stuff we shouldn’t be controlling. Now the whole Council knows too, because my budget speech was all about focusing on essential infrastructure improvements and key priorities instead of wasting time and money on basketball and a bunch of other stupid stuff that’s none of our business. Our financing of that stupid stuff is open to corruption and those things could be done better by the private sector. I voted against the city budget because it was full of bullshit and the only department that got cuts was the IT Department. That’s the department that can help to reduce bureaucracy and corruption by streamlining systems and showing data transparently to the public. #facepalm

For example, I pushed to expose all the Councillors’ wages and expense claims online, with easy-to-read charts and explanations. For the first time, you can see clearly who gets how much. It turns out that one of the Vice Mayors, Vladas Benkunskas, claims three times more expenses than the other Vice Mayors. Interesting, right? I am investigating why he needs so much more money, because the answer he gave me in the last Council meeting was not an answer. If we did more projects like this, it would be much harder for politicians and civil servants to bury things under paper and hope nobody notices.

My favourite civil servant, the Mayor’s IT Adviser Povilas Poderskis, has been doing amazing work with his too-small budget, opening up all sorts of raw data, visualising it for youbringing volunteers on board and deploying e-systems wherever he can. With more money he could do actual magic. We talk nearly every day about the projects that should be done, and all those projects increase democracy, save money and sometimes even make money. Let’s hope that next year the budget will be better, but if it’s not – I’ll just diss it again in public and vote NO.

I did manage to burn one law. Food trucks were not allowed to drive around the city and serve people at the side of the road, they had to book special places in advance and just sit there. I fought for a few months and eventually food trucks were allowed to buy a licence to drive around and sell anywhere, as long as they don’t break existing traffic laws. The only problem is they can’t do it in the Old Town yet, but I’ll push for that to be allowed too.

Minorities

The two major issues since the election were LGBT and refugees. Unfortunately the Liberals threw me out of their fraction for supporting those two groups of people too strongly. Oh well.

I managed to get the city’s refugee assistance plan to include a line preventing discrimination on the basis of sexuality. There was some concern that the services would be provided by a church-related organisation which might contain prejudiced people. I just wanted to make them absolutely aware that their interpretations of religion shouldn’t stop them providing humanitarian services to all people equally. Win.

When Majauskas won funding for a Catholic Church, I opposed by pointing out that I am a religious minority (Protestant) and I spent the rest of the Council meeting ridiculing the church funding idea and talking about mosques. I will be debating that decision soon @ Peronas.

And the Mayor signed the papers allowing us to set up a group of Councillors for LGBT Equality before the gay parade, including the official email address lgbt@vilnius.lt. I admit the group doesn’t do much work, but unfortunately in the Lithuanian political arena just setting up a group like that is already a big statement, and I hope members of the LGBT community appreciated it. The other Councillors need to know that we won’t accept any nonsense, like that time Kaminski made some kind of speech about being from a “normal” family.

I proudly paraded with thousands of other people, wearing a British flag skirt and waving a City flag in rainbow colours. Some of my colleagues in the Council thought this was some kind of ethics violation, but the Mayor made a strong speech supporting equality and that shut them up. Nice!

Please march with us next time, Remigijus.

My new focus is on disabled access, and pretty much every time someone mentions spending money on something stupid, I suggest spending it on disabled access instead. Our pavements are still terrible, especially when covered with ice, and I really can’t recommend that people with restricted mobility have a holiday here. It must be really difficult for the people who live here every day. Let’s fix that in 2017.

Education

This is not my strongest area of expertise, I was only a swimming teacher for a few years, but I think education should always be a priority because it saves money in the long run.

I happily voted for the scheme giving 100EUR/month to people who go private, leaving more free spaces for the people who need them. I also voted for the idea of giving people 100EUR/month to care for kids at home, if we can sort out a secure way of doing it without people abusing the system.

We have an obligation to provide kindergartens, and this is something we can do as a temporary solution while we fix the massive backlog that the previous administration left behind.

I have raised the question of afterschool clubs – I asked if we should have more activities to teach citizenship and prevent bullying, and people like the idea but I haven’t seen much action on that. Sport is always popular, and I have nothing against sport but I think there’s other stuff we should do too. I’ll keep pushing.

One area of education I work very hard in is Lithuania’s history, especially the history of the Litvaks who lived here until they were nearly wiped out in the Holocaust. I think that understanding of this period is essential to the health of today’s Lithuania, and I find it amazing learning about the people and the vibrant culture that was lost. For this reason, and on behalf of all minorities who visit and inhabit multicultural Vilnius, I proposed changing the name of a street which currently honours a pro-nazi propagandist, Kazys Škirpa, whose antisemitic organisation encouraged and enabled the Holocaust. There will be a public discussion soon, followed by a vote in the Council. Wish me luck, because this is probably the most important project I have initiated, and I hope everybody learns something.

Growth

I promised to do all I can to improve the image of Vilnius and attract more tourism and investment. Originally I thought this should probably be done by leaving the job to the private sector and encouraging business associations to promote the city. However, Vincas Jurgutis pushed to start a city-owned development agency, and Agnė Selemonaitė worked hard to make it rational and effective, without causing a total embarassment like most other state-funded initiatives. She talked me into voting for it, but I promised to withdraw my support next year if it looks like we are wasting money. We discussed how to make it useful and attractive to foreigners, without Boratish grammar mistakes and endless brochures of medieval history.

We had a vote in the Council, some Members complained about the English language name (omg srsly), and Go Vilnius was born.

Then, I encouraged Darius Udrys to apply for the Director’s job, and George East to apply as a writer, to bring a foreign perspective to the initiative and make sure we were presenting the city in a way that I could proudly show to my investors and friends back in England. And then I had to defend the budget so that it wouldn’t be cut to stupidly low levels to save money for the basketball team.

And that’s that. The first product came out recently – beautiful brochures full of information for welcoming new immigrants to our lovely city. Awesome. I have shown the booklets to people who are interested in Vilnius, and the response is always positive.

I wish Go Vilnius luck and I’m working with them every day to make things as good as possible. It’s not going to be easy to compete with every other city in the world, because most of them have budgets much bigger than ours, but we’re punching above our weight.

Defence

Maybe it seems a bit strange for a local government candidate to promise to prioritise defence, but I promised to prioritise defence. In my pre-election promises I said:

“How can we show the world we don’t agree with being annexed by anyone? By celebrating our values, using our freedoms and participating in our democracy. Vote, and smile.”

Everything I have written above helps to strengthen our democracy and show our tolerant, multicultural city life to the world. This is what makes us different from any authoritarian regime who might want to invade. We are showing the international community that we are a free city, and worth defending. I think that’s the best defence strategy possible.

I had to defend myself more than once in court, eventually fighting in the Council against losing my seat, which I didn’t lose. Again.

Proving that Lithuania is a civilised country which respects democracy and rule of law – big win.

Also I voted in favour of the proposal to work with the Riflemen and the Reserves to provide military training in schools, because I was lucky enough to get that myself in England, and it was awesome.

Nobody said it would be easy

I’m trying. I’ve had some successes. I haven’t done everything I want to do. Some stuff is still in progress and might fail. I could do more.

But I promised to work for you, and I’m working for you.

It’s your city. Help me to do better.

Any questions or suggestions – My official Facebook page is “Very responsive” to messages, and I always read mail sent to tasbritas@vilnius.lt.