With third reading of the 2012 Morinville budget now passed, individual councillors and the mayor must stand by the items they proposed to be reduced or cut along the road from wish list to final budget. Mayor Lloyd Bertschi and Councillor David Pattison took criticism from this publication a few weeks back for having espoused one view on the importance of economic development during the 2010 election campaign and yet voted to reduce spending on it at second reading.
Now that Budget 2012 is a done deal for another year, Councillor Lisa Holmes might take a little heat for reducing the amount to be spent on the East Boundary Road study in 2011. Nicole Boutestein could receive unfavourable glares from residents over her suggested cuts or for advocating another 50 grand for library book shelves. So too with Councillors Ben Van de Walle and Paul Krauskopf who also provided input and made requests to cut, reduce or defer items during the process.
But what of Councillor Gordon Boddez? The veteran councillor voted for first reading along with the rest, but when his council colleagues were putting their thoughts on budget cuts out for public consumption during second reading, Councillor Boddez simply sat on the wall letting each opportunity to speak pass by like the busy workman in the trenches below him. Like a robed sage on a mountain top, Councillor Boddez requested to speak last at second reading, and when that opportunity came he chose to deliver a speech on the evils of high taxes rather than put forward any argument or debate on what should be cut to ensure those evil high taxes were… well…less evil.
A similar lack of effort was put out during Dec. 13’s debate en route to final reading. But that did not stop the experienced councillor from standing high upon the soap box of popular opinion to rail against taxes, espousing his view that council was not doing a good job reining things in. He then voted against a budget that he put no more effort into whittling down than criticizing the fact the budget wasn’t whittled down enough.
Asked why he simply did not grow a pair and request restraint along with his council colleagues, Boddez said he preferred not to do that. Instead, in his view atop the brick wall, Council should set an acceptable tax increase and direct administration to let council know what that would buy in terms of projects and services. Council would then approve those recommendations or not. Nice work if you can get it, but that is not what he was elected to do. Councillors are not spectators at some Roman gladiator game, raising and lowering thumbs at will. They are elected officials charged with reading council packages, asking questions about what’s in that thick ream of material, and making sometimes tough decisions – like cutting stuff from budgets.
Councillor Boddez was elected to enact the will of the people. Railing against high taxes, while expressing the desire of the people, is simply not enough. To not back that displeasure with an honest and sincere review of what is proposed to be spent, weighed against council experience and the input of the public, and followed by actions to control spending is a dereliction of the duties entrusted to an elected official.
While Councillor Boddez’ pontification over the evils of high taxes instead of knuckling down to suggest cuts as the rest of his council colleagues did may gain him some points in some circles, it would be hard for anyone with a working knowledge of how budgets are done to see it as anything other than a campaign speech 21 months before the next regularly-scheduled municipal election.
Whatever his motivations, Boddez’ lack of performance in the budget process was nothing short of a profound display of disrespect for his council colleagues, the staff members who worked tirelessly to prepare the budget information for his digestion, and the majority of the electorate who were swayed by his auto-dialed election campaign in 2010 to elect him with the highest numbers of any of Morinville’s elected officials.
It is worth noting Councillor Boddez was the largest proponent of a swimming pool during that election, a pool he contended could be fully built with no increase to taxes. Like his promise to immediately come forward to council with those pool plans after the election, Boddez’ performance during this year’s budget process remains anchored in the shallow end of the pool with no real action beyond talk.
When it comes to elections, it is completely acceptable to dial us up with a campaign speech. But when council is asking for a tax increase of any amount from ratepayers, it is completely unacceptable to phone in your pitch from the sidelines. Councillors, Town staff and the ratepayer deserve better than that, and the work of budget deliberations cannot be conducted whilst sitting high on a wall, expecting everyone else left down below to pick up and reassemble the pieces.
Editor’s note: The original version of this editorial used the analogy of Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall while the workers toiled below. As this was construed by one online comment to be a shot at his physical appearance, the reference to the nursery rhyme character has been removed from the title and the singular instance that compared the councillor’s actions to that of a nursery rhyme character pontificating atop a wall. We regret any other inference or interpretation the literary analogy may have raised in readers. However, we stand firmly behind the remaining 878 words in this editorial and the point that it makes.