Appeared in North Shore News – January 21, 2011
If revenge is best eaten cold, George Pajari set up an Ice Age table for his critics — and served crow.
With gentlemanly dignity and the skilled pace and timing of a consummate actor, Pajari blew away West Vancouver Mayor Pam Goldsmith-Jones and West Van library board chairwoman Marcia Bergen who imprudently accused him publicly of having his facts wrong about library expenditures during the heated municipal budget debate.
Goldsmith-Jones issued a terse apology later in the Jan. 10 council meeting.
Hit the pause button. I said gentlemanly, and I said dignity. Pajari — the man with more luxuriant moustaches than Hercule Poirot, and maybe as skilled in ferreting out the facts as Agatha Christie’s Belgian detective — later graciously defended the mayor. More generously, in the undersigned’s opinion, than the heavy-handedness behind her smile deserved.
“She obviously turned to her staff to get information” — about Pajari’s indictment of a library expenditure of $40,000 in custom furniture to match the building’s carpets. The mayor denied it. Said no one on the library staff or board had any idea about it. Staff misinformed her, Pajari suggested in an interview.
But Goldsmith-Jones then waded deeper into the morass when she accused the North Shore News of reporting Pajari’s words without checking the facts.
Oh, oh. What emerged was not only that the mayor, board chairwoman and long-time library staff had erred in denying that the expenditure had taken place — the board had proudly run a photograph of the said furniture in its 2005 annual report.
So not just factual error. Mass amnesia too. (And evidence that few pay attention to annual reports even in their own bailiwick?)
Oh yes — and the mayor, then a councillor, had been council’s representative on the library board sometime in that period.
Pajari unrolled his meticulous case — which drew frequent chuckles and decibel-raising applause when he finished — politely starting with: “At the previous council meeting my credibility was called into question by council and a member of the gallery, so I beg your indulgence if my response takes slightly more than (the obligatory though sometimes transgressed) three minutes.”
The mayor interrupted that they’d try to stick to three minutes.
Pajari then seemed to confess that Bergen had been right: “(My) claim that the library board spent $40,000 on custom furniture with inlaid veneer carved to match the pattern on the carpet is erroneous. She is right. I was wrong.
Pause. “It wasn’t $40,000, it was $43,561.03.” Laughter from the cheap seats.
Another Pajari “error” — which this paper chose for its headline: “And it wasn’t custom furniture with carved inlaid veneer, it was custom furniture with engraved veneer” — his voice indicating the emphasis. More applause from the audience.
Then Pajari brought out the torpedoes: “You (the mayor) excoriated the North Shore News for a lack of fact-checking. You want facts?”
Dramatically, no actor could do better, Pajari rapidly brandished sheet after sheet of paper: “These are the minutes of the board meeting that approved the expenditure. Here is the financial report from the district (of West Vancouver) detailing the expenditure. Here’s a photo of the furniture I sent to the manufacturer. And here is their email confirming they made it, and it was custom.
“And to the claim that even people who worked at the library for 30 years had no information on any custom furniture? The library was so proud of the furniture, they put a photo of it in their annual report.”
But there was another zinger: “And this was around the time you, your worship–”
Audience laughter obscured his words, and Mayor Goldsmith-Jones said: “Pardon me?”
Pajari: “And that was around the time, you were the council representative to the library board, your worship.”
Goldsmith-Jones: “So I wasn’t the mayor, that’s for one thing, and one member of council is still on that same (board), so I think that–”
Unruffled, clock ticking, Pajari’s turn to interrupt: “Could I finish, your worship?”
Goldsmith-Jones: “Well, I’m counting my seconds that I’m using up, so you won’t have to hurry, but I think that council believed you were referring to this last year. Carry on.”
Pajari drily noted that last month he cited not only the questionable spending of $40,000 on furniture — inlaid, engraved, whatever — but also roughly $1 million that he alleged was spent on “a wasteful and untendered contract,” and he also alleged a lack of transparency surrounding the $20 million endowment fund. He marvelled that “not a peep” had surfaced about the last two, much more serious items.
But Pajari wasn’t finished. “It was also interesting to hear you, your worship, mention how well we’re served by the library foundation. You really want to bring up the library foundation? Were you aware that their financials filed last year showed that they raised $127,000 but spent $134,000 on overhead?
“That’s right, if the Canada Revenue Agency’s figures are correct, the West Vancouver Library Foundation spent $7,000 more on overhead than they raised . . . in 2009,” and “of the $134,000, not one penny went to the library. . . . All that money you helped raise for the library at the croquet tournament that year? Eaten up in expenses.”
Disclosure: I donated to the foundation for some years. No more. I stopped when I couldn’t get a satisfactory answer about why some names of people I’d honoured in my small way had been dropped from its in-memoriam panel — examples, Sun reporter Moira Farrow and receptionist Verna Hopkins — and hasn’t been updated to include two others, fine citizen Fred Moonen (d. 2009) and columnist Jim Kearney (d. 2008).
Disparate citizens have been demanding a zero per cent increase in the municipality’s operating budget, claiming chronic waste, mismanagement, financial carelessness at town hall. They believe services could be maintained or even improved if budgets were restrained. (Glimmer of hope? Newish finance director Nina Leemhuis is drawing praise.)
For years the unassuming Pajari and spouse Carolanne Reynolds have devoted long hours doing invaluable work for taxpayers, attending tedious meetings, observing the West Vancouver Police Board, diligently reporting. They deserve some municipal recognition, Freedom of the City, or some such.
Think they’ll get it anytime soon?
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Regrets trouble my sleep, and a fresh one is that the above item stepped on my intention today of summarizing West Vancouver-Capilano Liberal MLA Ralph Sultan’s discussion paper Childhood Poverty in West Vancouver: Fact or Fiction? I won’t spoil the plot by revealing the answer.
Economist Sultan’s wit shines through his “acknowledgements and disclaimer.” The year-long project, he writes, “was essentially funded by myself. I did not receive funds from any arm of the government. . . . I typed it myself with my own two fingers.”
As for crude party politics, when we brushed past in a restaurant recently Sultan admitted to “98 per cent certainty” about which Liberal leadership candidate he will support. By the time you read this he may have bridged the two-per-cent gap. Pure guess: George Abbott.
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It’s never too early in the year for a They-Walk-the-Earth nomination. Mine goes to the phone-in moron who said the Canadian junior team’s loss to the Russians — we’re talking kids 19 and younger — made him ashamed to be a Canadian. Let’s chip in to send him abroad.
© Trevor Lautens, 2011