July 14th, 2024

No legitimate reason for council to delay reviews


By Lethbridge Herald on June 19, 2024.

OUR OPINION

It sounded like a reasonable motion presented to city council – ask administration to do a review of fee-for-service agreements with external organizations and those with Memorandums of Understanding to see if the City is getting the best bang for the taxpayer buck.

As heard at council’s June 11 meeting, the official business motion presented by councillor John Middleton-Hope regarding Economic Development Lethbridge and Tourism Lethbridge was a matter of due diligence.

Funding is already allocated for such reviews of fee-for-service groups and organizations with Memorandums of Understanding so really such an action wouldn’t have cost the taxpayers anything since the $162,000 cost is already covered.

Middleton-Hope’s motion stated that both economic development and tourism are “integral municipal activities to attract investment and foster a vibrant city” and that presently these activities are conducted by external parties which are contracted under-fee-for service agreements.

The councillor pointed out that EDL and Tourism Lethbridge are the largest such organizations of its kind getting funding from the City.

He made clear he wasn’t targeting them for any nefarious reason, he just felt such reviews should be done of all such groups.

And city residents may agree with him given the tax hikes that home owners and businesses are both dealing with as well as the costs associated with the rescue of the Lethbridge & District Exhibition. 

Our poll on the issue showed residents overwhelmingly support these reviews with 89 per cent voting in favour during the 24 hours that poll should have run. Even after the poll ran accidentally for a second day, 76 per cent still supported the review process. 

City taxpayers are testy about financial matters and passing this motion would have shown much-deserved respect to them. And shown clearly that city council does actually believe in transparency and accountability as we loudly heard regarding the Exhibition.

So why did council push the matter back to the Economic and Finance Standing Policy Committee – which is essentially council itself acting in a capacity that allows the public to address issues brought before it?

Why should any organization getting municipal funding that is subject to a potential City review be given a chance to discuss in advance with council what and how it’s conducting business? 

If they are going to be asked to appear before a standing policy committee or council such appearances should come after a review if administration has found any matters that need to be addressed with civic governance. And we won’t know that until any reviews are completed.

There is no reason for them to appear in advance at the SPC.  This is like putting the cart before the proverbial horse.

One point of such an internal review, as council heard, is to examine performance metrics.

Let an administrative review determine if there is anything for council to actually examine.

 Given how concerned residents have made clear they are about rising taxes and the Exhibition rescue situation, supporting the motion should have been an easy call for council. After all, it’s a way for administration to determine if the City is getting a good return for the taxpayers’ investment in them. 

From transparency and leadership perspectives, such a review of any fee-for-service organization funded by tax dollars would be welcome by many  residents of this city.

In light of all the controversy surrounding the Exhibition, accountability should be demanded and expected by council of all organizations funded by taxpayer dollars.  

A review is the way to see that there is indeed public accountability and fiscal responsiblity being shown. 

Does council not understand how city residents feel about financial matters? We’re on the hook for millions with the Exhibition, we have water and wastewater treatment facilities that desperately need expensive upgrades – for which council has shown reluctance to raise taxes to pay for.

Yet it has taxpayer money for the Exhibition, a downtown street hockey festival and a curling event that may or may not happen. But council has deferred until July 11 any further discussion on the reviews.

And even then nobody can expect a quick decision because the SPC could refer the matter back to itself acting as council which seems counter-productive and delays any vote on the reviews from occurring. 

With council soon to take a summer break, these proposed reviews should be a priority for it to examine – if council has any respect for taxpayers who deserve and expect both financial accountability and transparency from the City and council itself.

If council is going to talk the talk about transparency and financial accountability, it needs to walk the walk because talk is cheap, taxes aren’t. 

But since council members are going to have EDL and Tourism Lethbridge in front of them, on behalf of taxpayers here are two simple questions to ask the heads of both:

What revenue does your organization generate for the City each year and what does the City pay your organization each year to generate that revenue in terms of wages and operating costs? 

One could assume both questions would be easy to answer, but given what we observed during council’s discussions with the Exhibition’s former leadership, sometimes simple questions can’t – or won’t – be answered.  Hopefully this won’t be the case again.

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biff

city hall is pure and clean and infinitely capable. ask any of ’em? thus, why waste money on audits?

Learjet

People have this amazing ability to solve problems, whether human-created or of natural origin.   Problems are easy to identify as they tend to cause us pain or discomfort, making solutions valuable. This instinct to act decisively can be used to our detriment, however.
The term “red herring” originated from historic use of the fish to make hounds lose their scent while hunting.  In modern times this now refers to information that may be misleading or distracting.  Politicians seem particularly well-versed in the use of this artifice to divert our attention away from where we should be focused.  
Over the past couple of years, the fair City of Lethbridge has seen more than its share of problems, both real and perceived.  It seems almost weekly another issue explodes into the public domain from transit and waste management to snow clearing and road maintenance, growing concerns over crime, public safety, costly vanity projects such as the AgriFood Hub money pit, infrastructure shortfalls such as waterworks, and an airport nobody seems quite sure what to do with. Perhaps they woulld like us to focus our attention elsewhere. 
So, when politicians present us with a purported problem that urgently needs to be addressed, we must pay very close attention.  On the surface, what could be more reasonable than a review by the stewards of the public purse with regards to public funds.  With an Official Business Motion calling for a Fee-for-Service Cost-Benefit Analysis of Economic Development Lethbridge and Tourism Lethbridge?  
A matter of such significance surely deserves a closer look. First off, what exactly is the problem this motion serves to address? There are no allegations of impropriety so calling for an “investigation” seems unnecessarily inflammatory. Given the fact these organizations are regularly audited, and reports given to Council on a timely basis, where is the cost-benefit analysis of spending $135,000 of taxpayers hard-earned dollars. This act of apparent self-contradiction alone should be making our spidey senses tingle. But wait, there’s more.
In a moment of unintended candidness, clues as to the motivations for this Official Business Motion are sitting there for discovery inside the resolutions.  For example, what does a positive cost-benefit look like? Would one dollar of net benefit suffice or would one million dollars be sufficient.  Likely there is in fact no net benefit whatsoever that would be adequate to deter the administration if the other resolutions are placed into context. 
The public should question the argument for an unfounded cost-benefit analysis which fails to give credit for the social and other benefits of economic development across the broad swath of industries served. That the City undertakes no such beneficial reviews of its own operations is quite telling as a financial audit only tells us if the numbers add up, not whether there was fair value-for-money received.
Taxpayers might be concerned when it is resolved that the City Manager undertake a review to determine if the public interest would be best served in by continuing with the existing arrangements or “considering other models” for the delivery of such services. What other models might those be (nudge, nudge, wink, wink)?   
Our elected representatives should be forthright and provide relevant terms of references outlining exactly what a successful review is. Would that be one where the status quo is maintained? Or more likely is it one where an outcome has been predetermined and more full-time equivalent employees destined to fill all those empty desks sitting at City Hall?  
Without full transparency accompanying this motion, taxpayers may well be forgiven if they are picking up the smell of something fishy.  Capers, anyone?  

Last edited 15 days ago by Learjet


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