Setting priorities is hard when you want to do nothing
- Saturday, July 21, 2007 @ 09:00
The fact that our current city council failed, after two lengthy sessions, to set itself priorities for its four-year term in office should come as no surprise. Councillor Vicki Schmolka, according to the Whig-Standard story "Council again fails to set priorities" (July 17), accused the previous council of having been "too focused on projects, while the present council should be more focused on ideas."
The advantage of "ideas" over "projects" is, of course, that they are cheap. But it is rather difficult to prioritize ideas as vague as "supporting initiatives that expand the commercial tax base" and "finding creative ways to have more efficient use of downtown space," two subjects that have been "endorsed as part of a suite of overarching policies." Even in the presumably restful confines of the Rideaucrest retirement home, where council met, it is difficult - and, as it turned out, it was impossible - to prioritize ideas.
Our previous council might, with some justification, point out that its "projects," such as the building of a downtown arena, will almost certainly expand the commercial tax base, while the renovation of Market Square has already proved to be a "creative way to have more efficient use of downtown space." I am not sure if the previous council bothered to prioritize its projects. What it did, to its lasting credit, was vote them through.
If we accept the reluctance of the current council to land us with any more expensive, time-consuming projects such as the above, or the restoration of the Grand Theatre, or the construction of our new multiplex hockey arena on Gardiners Road, then councillors' distaste for prioritizing ideas is understandable. If they were to prioritize the ideas they have agreed upon, they would lay themselves open to accusations of bungling should they fail to follow through on even the first of their ideas, the one they had all agreed was the most important; and of incompetence if by some chance they acted on other ideas - that is, converted them into projects - but in the wrong order.
A skeptic might decide that it was pretty obvious from all this talk that the current council is firmly committed to doing nothing at all during its four-year term of office, and thereby earning, as councillors see it, the undying regard of taxpayers. This, according to a letter published in the Whig-Standard from M.E.Vincent ("Councillors were elected to do what they're doing," April 18), is why they were elected, at least by M.E.Vincent. It would also, clearly, be pointless to spend the $15,000 somehow voted on in May to bring in an outside consultant to help council agree on priorities when council had no intention of accepting the consultant's recommendations, or certainly not of prioritizing them. It is true that a council that wants to do nothing has real problems when it comes to deciding in what order to do nothing, which raises alarming metaphysical problems that it would take a philosopher like Bertrand Russell to penetrate. The mayor, conceivably, would be justified in dismissing his current council, en bloc, as dysfunctional, and either calling for new elections or simply cancelling all meetings planned for the next four years, which would save him, his councillors and the rest of us an awful lot of time and heartache. He and his councillors could then spend Tuesday evenings at home with their families, in the happy certainty that councillors' desire to do nothing would inevitably be realized. It would absolutely ensure that no project got itself accidentally voted on and committed to.
- Tony Houghton is a Kingston freelance writer and a former member of the Whig-Standard's Community Editorial Board.