Citizen watchdog George Pajari questions spending in West Van – see video
The power of social media is being called a 'game-changer' in politics and governing by many pundits. Where it seems to be having the biggest impact in Canada is at the local level of politics. With a modicum of commitment, some hours of research and a steady delivery, it's amazing how citizen watchdogs can go a long way to bringing accountability back to governments.
On one end of the scale you have Vivian Krause, whose fair-questions.com website reveals her dedication to researching and documenting the influence of funding by American charitable foundations on Canadian politics and policy. For this she deserves our praise. In Vancouver there is the West End Neighbours, who have seriously challenged Vision's plans for a big STIR development in the West End.
There are other self-appointed citizen watchdogs out there who sense that the tax increases municipalities heap upon citizens have no bearing on reality.
GlobalTV reporter Ted Chernecki, who along with former CTF BC rep Maureen Bader, recently presented a great series titled "Dollars and Sense" exploring the abuses of spending in our cities & municipalities. The segments should be required viewing by engaged citizens who might ask, for example, why on earth does City Manager Penny Ballem get the same four per cent pay increase her unionized employees get when she's already earning $312,000 annually plus benefits?
In one of the Dollars and Sense segments we spotted Mr. George Pajari from West Vancouver, who after a little digging discovered millions of dollars of questionable spending by the District. Pajari sent us a note explaining his work trying to make district councillors and management more accountable...
Back in December, when the District of West Vancouver was considering whether or not to hold the line on municipal taxes, I addressed Council to point out several examples of fiscal mismanagement, stating that until they can prove they have cleaned up their act, they didn't deserve any more money.
The three examples were:
- $40,000 on custom library furniture designed to match the pattern in the carpet (while turning down the complete works of Shakespeare by the BBC, on DVD);
- Over a million wasted on an untendered contract to replace their phone system (subsequent research suggesting the amount wasted could be over $2.5 million); and
- Shenanigans surrounding a secret raid on the $20 million Endowment Fund which was hushed up until the municipal auditor told them to 'fess up or he wouldn't sign off the financials.
Well, guess what – no one paid any attention to the phone system fiasco or the raiding of the piggy bank but everyone went ballistic over the furniture. Talk about Parkinson's Law of Triviality.
Library staff misinformed the Mayor and said there was no such purchase. The Chair of the Library Board wrote to the North Shore News stating: "The claim that the library board spent $40,000 on custom furniture with inlaid veneer carved to match the pattern on the carpet is erroneous." (see this link). So the Mayor, at the next meeting, implied my comments were false and misleading.
Pajari's presentation at the West Vancouver council meeting is caught here on YouTube (already with 440+ views). On his own, and with the attention of local mainstream media on him, Pajari is making this affluent suburb accountable to its taxpayers.
Pajari continues to detail his work, and the response:
At least the Mayor had the good grace to apologize but the Library Board has decided to fight this tooth and nail (which is amazing since it happened so long ago they could easily have said it was history and old news).
In their most recent salvo they have chosen to refine the word "custom" so they can say the furniture is not "custom."
It's a text-book case on how not to handle a PR disaster.
As an aside, after the Mayor criticized me, in part, by saying how wonderful the West Vancouver Library Foundation was – I looked into the Foundation's finances and found that in 2009 they spent more on overhead and expenses than they raised in donations. Boy, did that get them going.
Anyway, here is some of what has been flying back and forth – again, it is somewhat tempest-in-a-West-Van-teapot stuff but the stupidity and audacity of the Library in defending their mistakes, and misrepresenting and misquoting me to do so, is amazing.
- Trevor Lautens (former Vancouver Sun columnist, writing in the North Shore News): http://www.nsnews.com/news/
- Library Foundation tries to defend itself: http://www.nsnews.com/Library+
- My response as Letter to the Editor: http://www.nsnews.com/
- My more complete response: http://www.scribd.com/doc/
- The latest rewriting of history by the Library Board and Library Foundation: http://www.westvancouver.ca/
uploadedFiles/Your_Government/ Council_Correspondence/2011/ January/11jan24-28.pdf (see pages 50 - 53).
- My response: http://www.scribd.com/doc/
Kudos to George Pajari and others like him for using social media to bring transparency into local politics. It will be a big factor in the upcoming election campaign, and for all others after that.
- post by Mike. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeKlassen.