Friday, January 24, 2020
Jan. 24, 2020

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Press Talk: That’s enough pumpkin pie!

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Too much of a good thing quickly turns into a bad thing.

Remember that oh-so-good piece of pumpkin pie? And then another, and another and another? That ended up very bad, didn’t it.

This valuable lesson applies to more than just pumpkin pie. Take our government. Please. (Apologies to Henny Youngman.)

I was thinking about too much pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving but mostly I wondered about how government sometimes tries so hard to be good that it ends up being bad. Let me explain. A friend of mine — Pat Jollota — had been appointed to yet another Vancouver City Council task force for yet another opportunity for city councilors to get yet another dose of feedback.

What she was appointed to study isn’t important in the context of this column. What’s worthy of a discussion is government’s increasingly incessant reliance on feedback.

Hey, it ain’t easy being against feedback. But before you begin throwing stones because I’m questioning something as American as pumpkin pie (apple pie says it’s willing to share) hear me out.

• • •

I wanted to talk to Jollota about all of this feedback government is getting because she has a unique perspective. She’s been around Vancouver for a long time, has been named our community’s First Citizen, is a local historian, a published author, appears regularly on Vancouver’s live talk show “Hello Vancouver,” was a city councilor for 20 years and has been on more of these feedback-giving task forces than she can remember.

So she has been on both sides of this feedback thing: a councilor who was elected to make decisions and a task force member appointed to give councilors feedback to help them make decisions.

First I laid out my premise:

It’s difficult to make an argument against feedback. After all, elected officials should know what those they represent are thinking about. But feedback has been increasing more and more each year and on virtually every topic.

Not only is this feedback beginning to paralyze government, keeping it from doing its business, it has become a way for politicians to avoid responsibility. “Hey, it wasn’t my idea to give me a 90 percent pay increase. It was that salary review commission I appointed. Blame them.”

Essentially, elected officials are slowly abdicating their leadership roles.

I asked Jollota if there was as much of this feedback stuff when she was a councilor. She was in office from 1990 to 2010.

“No, it was just starting. I think,” she responded.

Jollota then brought up the city’s inability to pull the trigger on naming a local park. (A controversy continues on whether to name a local park after local philanthropists Ed and Dollie Lynch.)

“OK, make a decision on the damn Lynch Park,” she said. “How many more committee meetings, panel meetings, do I have to go to?”

Jollota favors the Lynch name for the park. But whether you agree or disagree, my view is government needs to get to it.

“You’ve got to take on the responsibility that you promised you were going to take on when you ran for the office,” Jollota said.

I again suggested to Jollota that politicians — not just in Vancouver — have figured out that if they convene endless task forces, committees and listening sessions, they can point the finger at others when a difficult decision has to be made.

“You know, you’re making a great point,” she said. “You really are. I think that idea has been floating around in the deep dark recesses of my mind.

“I got an email from (former Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard) saying ‘What’s it going to take to get this council to make a decision?’ ”

Look, I get it’s a good idea to speak with people. And you or I could look at any given singular task force and make a case that it’s a good idea. But collectively it’s beginning to feel like it’s — again — an abdication of elected officials’ sworn duty. We are a representative form of government. We elect people to represent us.

Hopefully you see I’m not against feedback but rather against so much feedback that it grinds us all down.

“I think you’re right,” Jollota told me. “It’s a feeling I’ve had but haven’t been able to express.”

• • •

Agree? Disagree?  Regardless there’s likely to be more pie for Christmas. But get in and get out of the pie tin. One slice is enough, I’m telling ya!

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