Council is a nest of ego and ambition. Not so very long ago, council members fought among themselves privately and publicly. Some of it wasn't very pretty. Some of it was often very petty. But in the clash among councillors the public found out about what was happening with their city.
The current crop of councillors decided that the best thing for them to do is take decisions and debate out of the public view and to move it behind closed doors, into the shadows. They caught the disease of arrogance and entitlement that infects provincial politics.
The budget was nothing more than a symptom of the deeper problems at city hall.
Council met in secret. They decided quickly among themselves among themselves to hike taxes, slash services to residents, and boost subsidies to their friends, among other things. They tried to rush the whole thing through and figured the public wouldn’t notice.
When the public did notice, they tried a little bait and switch, pulling some cash out of a sock to try and buy off the members of the arts community who were upset at a cut in the city’s funding for the arts. Councillor Jonathan Galgay, chair of the budget committee, apologised for the big problem. In interviews he kept talking about the unanimous agreement among councillors. That was really his most important point.
Oh dear, said Jonathan. We are sorry. Let’s have a review.
And that was supposedly the end of it all.
Except that the city’s business community was even more deeply affected by the massive tax increase council tried to slip by.
The constant public attacks not only hit council by surprise but they exposed the dirty secret that council members have been trying to hide. Until now, the members of council have been able to present the image of a competent, business-like bunch of professionals.
That’s all an illusion, a facade maintained by deliberately suppressing information. One of the things they suppressed was a report on conflict of interest. Someone leaked the thing to the media. That seems to have cracked the facade. Art Puddister, for example, started carving out his own position on issues like public meetings. Now Art was pretty careful to keep a few secrets of his own, like his own position on when council should hike taxes.
That’s actually a good thing. Fart’s just a politician being open about being a self-interested windbag. Compare that to deputy mayor Ron Ellsworth. Ron – the man of bafflegab and cliche – is trying to pass himself off as a sound manager interested in being cool, sensible and all sorts of other good things. This little secret meeting Ron and some of the boys are keen on having is just another effort by guys like Ellsworth to put the regime of collaborative public deceit back in place. Here’s hoping that for the good of the city Ron and his like-minded fellows fail miserably.
We need to have a discussion of public issues in public. Let Galgay, Danny Breen and Ellsworth publicly declare their desire to be mayor. Let the entire council take a position in public on all the issues affecting the city. Debate things openly in public rather than cutting deals among themselves in private.
And then let them take the praise or the criticism as merited. That would be far more honest to taxpayers than anything Ellsworth and his cohorts have been trying to do for the past couple of years. Once council starts to function more honestly, taxpayers might be able to watch council come to grips with the financial mess they have created.
At least it is honest, which is more than we can say about anything said by any member of city council for the past three months.