Appeared in North Shore News – December 10, 2010
I promised myself months ago that nothing but Christmas sweetness would appear in my December columns this year.
Instead? Call the fire department, call the cops, call the United Nations! West Vancouver has been invaded by “Neo-Cons” and the “Tea Party”!
Hold on. Have we been annexed by the U.S. of A.?
Well, if West Van citizen Dean Mailey is accurate, the ideology if not the physical bodies of these entities, reviled by American liberals, has sneaked over the border and — in the shape of the Interested Taxpayers’ Action Committee (ITAC) — “bullied” and seized control of council and the West Vancouver budget.
That budget was held to a zero per cent increase for 2010, and, confronting town hall staff’s proposed increase of 2.35 per cent, ITAC and its sympathizers have a similar goal for 2011. This, Mailey believes, threatens to destroy some of the wealthy town’s proudest, finest amenities.
In his widely distributed email that begins “Without sounding like a zealot” — and risks doing just that, festooned with capitals like “RESPONSIBLE BUDGETING” and “IT IS TIME WE SPEAK OUT” — Mailey lists some of those threatened amenities: “. . . I for one want to (sic) them to retain our quality of life: keep planting flowers, keep the hanging baskets, keep a seven day a week library service; keep the Harmony Arts Festival and some support for the Kay Meek Theatre; and for goodness sake — don’t close a fire station.”
More substantially, Mailey warns: “It could mean every other week garbage collection; . . . parks and school fields that get cut twice a year. . . . We also want them to repair and replace our crumbling (and in some cases 80 year old) infrastructure.”
Who’s behind this malign agenda that would leave garbage perfuming the air for two weeks, parks turned into aspiring hayfields?
Mailey claims “a little known of group called ITAC . . . has taken control of the budgeting process in our community. These Neo-Cons are pushing for a never ending zero per cent budgeting process for our community. This is our very own Tea Party movement that is bullying councillors into a community budgeting death spiral . . . a small but vigilant group that seems to be having undue influence on our council.”
Mailey attracted a very influential supporter. Barbara Brink (C.M., O.B.C., described in her Who’s Who entry as “community leader)” is indeed that. She’s a philanthropist and was a major player in the creation of Science World. Necessary disclosure? My younger daughter was the beneficiary of one of her Science World work awards.
Brink distributed Mailey’s email widely, stating: “Yes the language is sometimes over the top but he is passionate. I too am concerned about this group called ITAC. They are a small but vigilant group that seems to be having undue influence on our council.”
In an interview, Coun. Michael Lewis — a former BC Hydro executive, the one unambiguous former member of ITAC on council, and personal friend of ITAC co-founder David (Prince of Darkness?) Marley, awkwardly just one letter away from Mailey — responded to Mailey’s description: “They’re talking piffle.”
I interject a comment: The one unforgiveable thing is Mailey’s description of ITAC as “little known.” How ill-informed, ill-read on West Vancouver issues can you get? ITAC, founded in 2005, has issued five fat financial analyses — footnoted, mostly dry, and using public statistics — and been irrepressibly in the news, thanks partly to the energy and showmanship of ITAC’s Marley. Mailey is welcome to say what he likes about ITAC, but stealthy, in-the-woodwork subversives they ain’t.
While I’m interjecting, know this: Dean Mailey is a professional PR man — and allow me to say that one of my best friends is one, and media’s job would be a hell of a lot more onerous without them, as West Van town hall is finding since the departure of Patricia Leslie.
In the 2008 municipal elections, Mailey wrote a letter to the editor of this paper supporting Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones — without divulging that he was a senior member of her team as communications leader. I saw this as, broadly, misleading readers and citizens by omission, and said so.
On the present issue, Mailey used his company’s email to disseminate the views I’ve quoted, leading me, unkindly perhaps, to ask him if he was spreading the views of a (paying) client or some other interest. He made it clear the views are strictly personal, and I fully accept that. As for not — more prudently, I’d say — using his personal email instead, he informs me he has none, only his company’s.
But Mailey is dead right about the littleness of ITAC. It has 14 members. It doesn’t seek members. It includes people with sound credentials in business, like Lewis, in important political roles, like Marley (a self-described “recovering lawyer”), and like ITAC statistical expert Garrett Polman, whose career included long service in Ottawa’s external affairs department, as an analyst with the federal Treasury Board, and with JP Morgan Chase in Chicago and Tokyo.
These are hardly look-alike raging Republican rednecks and good-ol’-boy rubes. I’d guess their beverage of choice is cocktails, not tea.
Marley says ITAC has never advanced “a suggestion of slash and burn of any one of our services.” Its claim is that “there are ways we can deliver these services more cost-effectively.” Mailey, he advises, is “entitled to your own opinion, but you aren’t entitled to your own facts.” Less charitably, he says of Mailey: “Who appointed him?”
Carolanne Reynolds, top council-watcher for years: Mailey’s screed was “full of distortions.” Her husband, George Pajari, a tireless observer himself, gave one of the devastating criticisms of the night, noting that some people had referred to “the ‘Trojan Horse email.’ I will not use that term, as the construction of a Trojan Horse requires some intelligence.”
Lewis, for his part, said at Monday’s packed and slightly tense council meeting that he had a long list of proposed budget cuts, if there was time to go over it. And smiled knowingly.
Because there never is. Councillors and public alike have far too little time for extended, detailed debate, and Goldsmith-Jones’s smiling warning that she hadn’t used the gavel in five years, and didn’t intend to then, is typical of mayoral power (compare free-wheeling Parliament and legislatures) to quash hard analysis and real fervour in the name of her evoked “respect.”
As usual, the real action is out of sight: The mayor and finance committee chairwoman Coun. Shannon Walker will meet with the finance director to discuss the budget further.
Mailey and the staff weren’t without supporters. “One of the most amazing places to live. . . . I would support the (budget) increase,” a youngish woman declared. “All of us have drawn a winning ticket in the lottery of life,” an older man rejoiced. Prominent citizen Maggie Pappas called it a great community and dismissed the proposed budget increase averaging $100 as merely “dinner for two” — “This is, after all, West Vancouver.”
So it is — and Coun. Bill Soprovich, armed with statistics, sees its other side. About 16 per cent of West Van residents are low-income earners. And there are 1,425 single-family parents. The tax increases of recent years “aren’t sustainable” and a new process has to be found.
As Lewis drily puts it: “West Van seems to be at the top of lists you don’t want to be at the top of.”
Wittiest line of the night, Coun. Mike Smith, when it was his turn to speak: “I wasn’t sighing, I was practising my yoga breathing.”
All this, and I haven’t room to assemble figures on the elephant in the room: Municipal staff salaries.
Nor — to step down from the media observer’s common amused-at-the-circus-and-above-the-fray perch — to sincerely sympathize with both points of view, and to delicately touch on the profound underlying reality: Money, money, money in a society that has suffered serious economic blows, especially to so many “ordinary citizens,” in every decade since the 1960s.
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Terry Platt, one of the many who failed to unseat Ralph Sultan in 2008, is moving to the federal field as New Democrat nominee in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, held by Conservative John Weston.
A B.C. Ferries worker, the personable Platt stresses that when she runs she won’t take time off. She’ll run on her own time — accumulated days off she’s saved for her campaign.
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I demand non-partisan congratulations today for not once mentioning the screaming follies in Victoria.
© Trevor Lautens, 2010