Sunday, April 15, 2012

Popular Misconceptions

One of the difficulties of being on council is trying to refute the misconceptions that seem to pop up everywhere. Sometimes they're the result of a rumour being repeated and exaggerated for effect, sometimes they're put out there by some members of council to defend council decisions, or they may be put forth pseudonymously on electronic news sites by those who try to appear that they're just wondering about stuff, but they're really trying to confuse the issue.

So, since there was no council or executive meeting this past week because of Easter Monday, I thought that I'd use today's blog to talk about a few of these misconceptions, and give my perspective.

First, a few times during and immediately following the boil water order, it was suggested that the defeat of a proposal to increase water rates last summer was part of the reason why the boil water order was put in place, and an editorial in the local paper implied that those of us who voted against the increase (including me) were somehow to blame. Not so. In fact, if you review any of the explanatory material that was provided during the boil water order, lack of funding was not mentioned. It was an unfortunate set of circumstances, complicated by the ongoing upgrading, and an investigation of how it happened would probably be worthwhile, in order to avoid such circumstances in the future, but that's it.

I was open about my reasons for not agreeing with an increase last summer - in the previous five years, water rates had increased four times, including an ongoing 7% increase, compounding annually for the next several years, that this increase will be over and above. I wanted administration to look at decreasing unnecessary expenditures to make up any shortfalls, rather than hitting up the taxpayer yet again. And I specifically disagreed with charging city residents a higher rate for the same volume of water than rural users. To me, this means that city residents are once again subsidizing other users of our services, just like we do with the soccer centre, the golf course, and other facilities that are largely supported through your taxes, and I'd prefer to level the playing field a bit.

Another misconception that floats out, particularly during budget times, is that this council is hampered by decisions of previous councils to not increase taxes. Well, it's only happened once in my time on council, which started in 2000. The only year that any council passed a budget that had a 0% increase was in the year of the last election. I voted against that budget because I felt that it was an extremely short-sighted election goody, but four members of the current council were part of the majority that supported this move.

And finally, probably the most damaging misconception is one held by some members of council, and some members of public - that council decisions are best made without debate and discussion, but instead with all members of council voting in unison, to give the illusion of solidarity. It's unfortunate that, over the last six years, the discussion seems to start with the preferred answer being brought forth from a vacuum, and any questioning of that preferred answer, even asking to see how it was developed, is treated as being somewhat akin to treason. It's as though some members of council are quite happy to be treated as a group rubber stamp, rather than making their own decisions, and providing good reasons for those decisions.

I have been part of councils that believed in setting goals and priorities before the budget was developed, that weren't afraid to send administration back to do further work because their first shot missed the mark, and that didn't mind spending more than the minimal amount of time reviewing the budget before passing it, to ensure that we were making the best decision possible, collectively. I think that some members of council might be surprised at how satisfying the job can be, when the whole process is approached collaboratively.

But how much easier it is to spread rumour and misconception, in an attempt to fool the public, and possibly even ourselves.

"Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." - Mark Twain

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