Thursday, May 26, 2011

Friends and Family

I haven't been around much lately. Our daughter Ingrid recently bought a house in Saskatoon, which required some work before moving in - redoing floors, replacing the bathtub, that sort of thing. Fortunately, she has a Handy-dad, so I headed down there the day after she got possession, and I've been there ever since.

Long and tiring days, but I have to say that I was totally impressed by her friends. We've always known that she had the good fortune to meet some really nice kids at the Pottery Club at PACI when she was in junior high. Those friendships have lasted and the group has expanded over the years, and these now young adults come together to help each other out whenever required. So every evening they would come by after work - first to help rip out things, then to learn how to put things back together. Between the Tuesday before the long weekend and the Tuesday after, we ripped out the rotting front porch and replaced it, took out a bathtub, the rotting wall behind it, and the wall and a closet between the bathroom and the main bedroom, replaced the bathtub, sink and toilet, put down new linoleum in the bathroom and new flooring in the kitchen and main bedroom, put up a new wall, and moved Ingrid's furniture and three cats from her townhouse to the new house.

I certainly couldn't have done it as quickly or as enjoyably without their help, but they seemed to think that I was doing them a favour, since they want to learn how to be handy around the house, and delighted in learning how to do things like use a table saw, or glue together plumbing pieces. Their parents have raised them well, and should be very proud of Sarri, Jaryn, Matt, Jen, Susan, Diana, Lana, Stephen and Christina. They would work hard, then take a beer or whatever break, then work hard again, all the while carrying on conversations about life, work and other things.

It was great to be part of a group that had a common goal, and was willing to work hard to reach that goal. No shortcuts with this gang - when one wondered one evening if we really had to make sure that all the details were taken care of, another reminded her that doing slip-shod work was what had caused these problems in the first place. It's great to see young adults in their late 20s and early 30s aware of the importance of doing the job right.

As most of you are probably aware, we have no family close by. Knowing that Ingrid has this group of friends that she can rely on alleviates some of the normal parental worry - these kids have her back.

We all should be so fortunate.

"Friends are God's apology for relations." - Hugh Kingsmill

Monday, May 16, 2011

Flinging Your Money with Wild Abandon, So That Things Will Look Lovely

At tonight's council meeting, not that it was any big surprise, council voted to spend more than $170,000 of taxpayers' money putting in an irrigation system for two new outdoor soccer fields at the soccer centre. Despite the fact that we just approved the budget for this year, this is a new and additional cost that will have to be paid for somehow. We don't know where the money is coming from, although it was claimed that some of it will come from an $80,000 surplus from last year - the first that I've heard of this surplus.

The statements supporting the motion illustrate the mind-set of most council members.

"We should do it now because it will cost more later" - just like costs for maintaining basic infrastructure will, but we have no problem putting those actions off.

"It's a first-rate facility, so we need to make everything around it first-rate" - let's ignore the various third-rate aspects of our city, like unpaved streets (which are still oiled to keep the dust down), lead service water connections, and ancient watermains that still break regularly.

"It's a beautiful facility, so the landscaping and surrounding fields should also be beautiful" - because, of course, the appearance of special use facilities matters far more than how well the city as a whole functions.

As usual, some council members feel that some projects need to be acted on immediately, rather than waiting until we have the money. Delayed gratification obviously isn't part of their operating philosophy.

When I questioned why this hadn't been included in the many-times-revised-upward soccer centre budget, I was first told that it was. This isn't true - if it had been part of the budget, we wouldn't have had to vote on it, because approval for this action would have been included in council's approval of the most recent facility budget. When I pointed out this discrepancy, I was then told that it wasn't part of the budget, because this is actually landscaping, which was odd, because we were also told that it was needed for two new outdoor soccer pitches, which to me sounds like part of what we're doing for soccer, rather than landscaping. Of course, with this additional action that will require considerable digging and placement of underground pipes, these fields won't be ready to play on real soon.

What I find particularly interesting about this single item is the number of complaints about the proposed funding that have arisen since the report was presented at Executive Committee last week. One citizen sent a email to all council members, suggesting that there are more pressing needs in the city, and considering the recent tax increase, this expenditure shouldn't be considered at this time, and that the vote on this should be recorded so that people could see where each member of council stood. I had a phone call from a resident of Ward Three, saying that the proposed expenditure made no sense at this time, and asking if there was any way of impeaching certain members of council. I had to tell him that I agreed with his take on the expenditure, but sadly, legislation provides no way of removing council members just for doing stupid things. Perhaps residents are starting to get tired of the continued lack of accountability in the way their money is spent.

Once again, image trumped common sense. For the record, we did have a recorded vote, and Councillor Miller, Councillor Cheryl Ring and I voted against it.

"You will find that truth is often unpopular and the contest between agreeable fantasy and disagreeable fact is unequal." - Adlai Stevenson

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Keeping the Faith

Not surprisingly, the budget passed third and final reading at a special council meeting on Monday, April 18, called in conjunction with the regularly scheduled Executive Meeting. We were given less than the required twenty-four hour notice of the meeting, but, as usual, that wasn't a problem for most of those in attendance. The job for many councillors appears to be to show up and vote without questioning anything.

A question that I often get from people is "How do you do it? How can you keep on beating your head against the wall?" I think that implicit in their questions is "when it appears that nothing is going to change, that most members of council are quite happy to keep collecting their salaries just for showing up and raising their hands when required".

My standard answer is "You do what you can." Perhaps at some point something so outrageous will be proposed that even those who regularly look to the front of the room before they vote will make an independent decision that actually considers the good of the taxpayers of Prince Albert. Or perhaps people represented by other members of council will let their councillor know that they aren't doing the job they are expected to do. Change will come - it is the way of the world. I keep hoping.

But in the meantime, I do it because that's what I was elected to do. The people who voted for me aren't around the council table, and they elected me to stand up for them. To not do so, to just vote with the majority of council because the conclusion is inevitable, and that way we'll give the illusion of being one big happy family, wouldn't be doing the job, as I understand it. I will continue to raise questions about proposed decisions, because that's how the best decisions are arrived at. And some questions I have to raise over and over, because I don't get answers.

Is it frustrating? You bet. Do I get tired of it? You bet. Am I going to change the way I approach the job? Not a chance. Too many people whose opinions I respect and value keep telling me to continue the fight, so I will.

"The only failure a man ought to fear is failure in sticking to the purpose he sees to be best." - George Eliot