By Samuel Strait – March 24, 2016 – I so often hear this continuous drumbeat of politicians who insist that they hear what their constituents have to say, then when they go in direct opposition to what they are being told, their excuse is either “this is what the staff recommended”, or “we paid $X,XXX,XXX,XXX,XXX.XX dollars to ABC Consulting out of Sacramento” and they assured us that this was the best way. The most common rebuttal by the constituents to those statements should be “then why should we elect you to represent us when we could elect the staff, or ABC Consulting instead? At least then we can be mad at the people who have led us to this or that disaster.
A response by three of our “august” City Council as to why they voted 5-0 to institute the recently controversial 20% sewer rate hike, Rick Holley, Ron Gastineau, and the ever present Kathryn Murray, all spouted meaningless nonsense about staff recommendations, Wildan Services, maintaining our infrastructure and some sort of fantasy about growth. Naturally there was the appropriate snarkiness about why on earth would anyone oppose such a worthwhile endeavor. Only villain and punching bag, Donna Westfall, it would seem according to Murray. I wonder who the real villains are?
Apparently, neither Murray, Gastineau, or Holley can relate to the undeniable fact that 1715 individual people, some of which they have promised to represent when elected to office object to the rate increase. Logically the vote should have been 3 to 2 or even 2 to 3 if those citizens are truly being represented, certainly not 5 to 0 in favor! Apparently Ms. Murray is clueless in understanding that working hand in hand with assorted government entities does not always mean a successful outcome. At some point Ms. Murray, Mr. Holley, and Mr. Gastineau need to open their collective ears to issues that plainly exist with the Cities’ Sewer Plant cost and the real expectation that the rate payers can not afford such extravagance. At the same time, it should be unforgivable for a representative, in this case Ms. Murray, to jump ship after having been an integral part in the creation of Waste Water Plant fiasco and move to another arena where similar self absorbed transgressions are certain to follow. Clearly it would benefit any would be politician to witness another politician having to pay the price for making bad decisions, something that has become all to infrequent.
But that is not what has happened! Representatives have for some time largely ignored the input by the unwashed and apparently are unable to educate themselves about issues outside of government imperatives. They rely completely on advice given by “THE STAFF” or some hired consultancy group that often as not has no local knowledge or sense about local constraints. As a consequence, we live in a relatively cash strapped County that has a harbor that is the envy of the leisure craft world and is also half full. We have a City Sewer plant that has too few people to pay for it and no expectation of any real growth in those numbers which make it possible to pay for it. We have a school district with another bright shiny new gym in Smith River, but not a whole lot else to show for a $25 million investment. We soon will have a really expensive new airport terminal at a place with no connecting flights. And finally, we have a JPA which was initiated because an unelected State board decided that we had a problem that really did not exist, fined the County for over twenty years more and still did not demonstrate that a problem really existed, and then our dependable staff at the JPA decided that they would ask the State Board to relieve them of the need to continue paying the fine after paying it for over twenty years. I have to say that our representatives, at some level, need to lose that expectation that they can depend on staffs and consultants to solve any problem on the consent agenda and start working harder to understand issues by listening to the people that they are suppose to be representing.
How important are expensive fancy public works infrastructure to the average person in Del Norte County? Is it possible for our representatives to exercise a tiny bit of self restraint? Is it possible for some common sense to be injected in the decision making process and forgo the need to adopt mindlessly staff or consultant recommendations? Can something at the local level be done to combat the one size fits all mind set of the State of California?
As a leader in this County tasked to make decisions for the benefit and welfare of all citizens it is incumbent upon those same leaders to work hard and open their ears to listen, something that the City Council is having a very difficult time with. It should be a wake up to the voters in this County that leadership qualities are not a given in nice, friendly, seemingly responsive people running for office. We currently have for the most part those nice people representing us who have not moved this County or the City in a positive direction for a long time no matter what supporters do to polish up their images at election time. It might be time for representatives who are willing ask a few embarrassing questions of their respective staffs as well as think for themselves, rather than the group think we now have. We do have a couple representing us now now, and I hope the upcoming election produces a few more.