Sunday, June 20, 2010

Information, Please

It should go without saying that the more information that you have, the better decisions you are able to make. One would also hope that this information would be as complete as possible, and be provided with enough time to be reviewed.

Too often, with this council, we're expected to make decisions quickly, without sufficient information. This means, sadly, often decisions that are then regretted later, when the full impact of those decisions is realized too late.

This year's budget discussions were an excellent example of this - insufficient information, which we then had to rush through, for no good reason. And now, we're living with the result. I had another member of council ask me why we spend money replanting ferns in the flower beds around City Hall - this expense might not be required, since ferns are a perennial that spread easily and enthusiastically. But this councillor didn't take the time, or ask questions, about that part of the budget, instead voting to support something without reviewing it thoroughly and asking questions to find out the details of how money is being spent, to note areas such as this where cost savings could have been realized. So when I pointed out that this is just one result of supporting the budget, and the rushed process, the response that I got was "but there wasn't time." Again, a misconception based on taking the information offered by some members of council and adminstration at face value - that the budget has to be passed as quickly as possible. If this councillor had done a bit of research, even just checking to see when other communities pass their budget, or looking over the past ten years to see when our budget bylaw has been passed, such research would have shown that some years, the budget hasn't been passed until late May, with sufficient time for questions and well-researched answers.

And at last week's council meeting we had a couple more examples of rushing to decisions without having all the information. In the first, discussion was raised around the previous week's Executive Committee meeting vote, in which council had approved the removal of a controlled crosswalk at Sixth Avenue West, because the electrical box controlling the crosswalk was blocking motorists sight-lines. In fact, one councillor declared himself giddy at this coming before council, claiming that it was something that he had been working towards for quite some time. However, this week, after realizing that removing the electrical box would mean removal of the cross-walk, we have decided to send this back to administration for another look. Perhaps if we hadn't tried to rush to the solution before reviewing all of the implications of that decision, we wouldn't look as though we were reversing ourselves.

Another example is with the ongoing battle for the parking lot at the Belly-Up Bar. When the requirements for the parking lot were provided by administration, the bar owner did some of his own research, and found out that the requirements were not those for the size of parking lot which is being proposed. As a result, what we thought was a way to move forward has been delayed once again, because incorrect information was provided, for reasons that haven't been explained. If we are going to have more stringent requirements in this case, we have to be sure that all similar situations are being treated in the same way; that's the only way to be seen as being fair. As well, this new information was not provided to us on the Monday morning of council, as the local paper reported, but at the start of the actual meeting, 7 p.m., so that there was absolutely no way of reviewing it before the meeting. As you may have figured out, this is frustrating when one is trying to move ahead with resolving issues.

Sometimes it seems as though accurate, timely information is getting harder and harder to obtain from City Hall. It shouldn't be that way. Everyone involved, from council through all levels of administration, should recognize the importance of getting information out quickly to anyone who is interested enough to ask questions. Those of us to do ask questions shouldn't be treated as though we are nosing about in areas that we have no right to ask about. In fact, it should be the other way around. Those who cheerfully vote on issues without asking any questions ahead of time, or take direction from other members of council without considering the long-term impact of making decisions that way, should be asked why they have given up their responsibility to carry out the job of member of council to the best of their ability.

Information - the more we have, and the more we use it, the better off the city will be.

"The older we grow the greater becomes our wonder at how much ignorance one can contain without bursting one's clothes." - Mark Twain

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