In the Hall of Glass

After what I witnessed today, I think I may have been a little harsh in what I said about Radu Moisin earlier. I mean he truly is an incoherent, arrogant thief but I’m starting to realize his illogical, incoherent inanities are actually not all that unique.

Today I went to a meeting in the “Hall of Glass” inside Cluj-Napoca’s City Hall complex. Why was I invited there? Well obviously because nobody knows who I am ;)

The meeting concerned the mayor’s proposal to create a website (or multiple websites) to attract business to locate to Cluj. Actually let me clarify that. The theoretical purpose of these websites is to attract foreign (i.e. non-Romanian) businesses to locate to Cluj. How many foreigners were at this meeting? Just me and a guy from a Korean NGO, neither of us “business” people! The rest were all Romanians.

I scribbled a ton of notes during this meeting because it was the most surreal thing I’d seen since watching Moisin’s television appearance a few days ago. The lady chairing the meeting clearly could compete with Moisin for making the most illogical statement whilst keeping a straight face and seeing no contradiction in it whatsoever.

Example: The entire point of this future website is to attract foreign businesses to locate to Cluj. Yet just three weeks ago a multinational company (ING) unexpectedly closed its back office center in Cluj. The lady chairing the meeting actually brought it up and said, “Well ING closed because of the economy.” And I was sitting there with mouth agape wondering, “Well if ING closed because of the economy then why in the hell would a different foreign business want to set up shop in Cluj?” But of course I didn’t ask that.

I also didn’t ask why in the hell every single slide in the PowerPoint presentation was misspelled (in Romanian). Nor did I ask why the mayor’s representative blithely mentioned that Cluj has had no city development plan for six years and is only now considering making a new one. And I sure didn’t ask why in the world they wanted to clog up a government website with paid advertisements.

In fact, I didn’t ask any questions at all. I just sat there and scribbled some notes and realized there’s apparently not a single person in the entire local administration who knows what the hell they’re doing. I’ve actually been to a million government meetings (in America) on all levels and I thought I’d seen the apotheosis of incompetence but Cluj-Napoca really takes the cake. This isn’t even rising to the level of greed or corruption but just simple inability to understand and implement a project on any level.

The best line of the meeting, btw, came during a discussion about whether students would create the future website (for free! cuz nothing’s better than slave labor) or else a private company would be hired, one of the City Hall flunkies said, “Of course we’d have to be transparent if we hired a company… so we don’t get accused of things!” Sheesh. Accused of things unjustly or perhaps one more accurate accusation of corruption?

A few years ago, I worked as a cook in a somewhat large institution. We were a small group but we had to prepare meals for about 125 people three times a day. It was a little different than restaurant work but especially because the meals had to be prepared and ready to eat at the same time, it required a tremendous amount of organization. I think a lot of home cooks have trouble making three dishes to be hot and ready to eat at the same time – now imagine doing it for over 100 people.

Without a doubt I was definitely not the best cook. My skills and experience could not compare to that of my colleagues. But within a couple of weeks, I was virtually running that entire kitchen. Why? Because I have organizational skills. My ability to chop an onion or to know how to mix and match the ingredients of a good minestrone soup were not the best. I wasn’t the oldest person there and I certainly wasn’t the most experienced. But I was (and still am) good at organizing.

To me it’s roughly akin to breathing – not that difficult to do. But obviously it’s hard for a lot of other people to do, especially on the institutional level. You have to know how to “herd cats” as we say in English. And it’s obvious that the Apostu administration has zero organizational skills. There was a huge banner touting their achievements in the back of the hall where we met and it was seriously things like “we paved 100 sidewalks!” and “we modernized the heating system on some apartment buildings”. Nice and all but really pretty pitiful considering that Cluj is like the fourth largest city in the entire country.

Cluj should be an awesome city, a shining example to the rest of the country. There should be meetings going on all around the country in towns and cities with people saying, “We should do what Cluj did”. Instead we’ve got a committee to possibly, one day, perhaps, maybe design a web site to potentially, hopefully lure in some foreign businesses who, unlike ING, will stay in Cluj and make lots of money based on some magical formula that no one quite knows but we’re all sure it exists and they’ll scramble to come here if they only could see that awesome future web site full of advertisements.

Assuming they don’t discover my “secret identity”, I’m supposed to meet these people again next week so stay tuned for (potentially) part two! :)

PS: Fun fact – all the chairs in City Hall have a serial number on them. I have no idea why.