Saturday, June 28, 2014

My First Council in Committee Meeting by Carson Zi

My First Council in Committee Meeting

By Carson Zi. 
As I peek through the double doorway into a half-filled room of well-dressed city councilors, city staff

and what I assume are a few citizens, I realize that everyone seems to have stopped talking for a

moment and is now staring at me. It’s in this moment that I am *really* glad I decided against riding

my skateboard to the council meeting. I nervously swallow any sense of being malapropos, take a deep

breath and remind myself that these are just people, same as me, as I step into the room.

I recognize a few people amongst the sea of faces and a couple of them wave or gesture a friendly hello

to me as I enter the room. I am greeted by Councilors Murray, Bell and Elkerton and share a smiling

glance with Lori Graham of the Economic Development Corporation as I walk past the tray of coffee and

snacks, past Mayor Walters and step over a fully uniformed police officer to station myself in the back

row of the public seating area.

After seating myself I couldn’t help but note that the public seating area is arranged so that the public

only has a view of the backs or sides of the city officials, not of their faces. This leaves me with a subtle

yet palpable sense that we the public are supposed to feel lucky just to simply to be able to view the

democratic process in action; but as far as engaging in it, well, just go sit at the back and we’ll turn to

look at you if we feel like it. I simply note this observance and try not let it color my experience but I

recognize that it could be easy to fall into feelings of inferiority simply due to the way that the ‘council in

committee’ room is physically arranged. I half wonder if it was arranged this way on purpose but I try to

push those thoughts aside and remain neutral and open.

Once the minutes from the last council meeting were adopted, Dionne Delesalle, Development Manager

for The Onni Group of Companies opened the meeting by presenting the mayor and each council

member with their own personal plaque. Apparently The Onni Group of Companies was presented

with the “2014 Industrial Development of the Year” award recently and this would not have been

possible without their “partnership” with The City of Pitt Meadows. This smoke blowing session left me

entirely nauseous and also wondering if Onni  (or employees of Onni)  will be making campaign contributions in 2014?

Following a quick photo op, Delesalle concluded his presentation by answering Mayor Walters’ single

question about how many new jobs were created by Onni. Delesalle reported that they have created

upwards of 500 new jobs since starting their development project but this was said with a disturbing

smile that left me feeling uneasy. I couldn’t help wondering how many, if any, of those jobs were

permanent positions and how many, if any, were filled by Pitt Meadows residents. No one bothered to

ask and Delesalle promptly left after his presentation making further questioning impossible.

The follow-up to this celebration of accomplishment was a petitioning by the aforementioned police

officer who was looking for $40,000 to purchase a second fingerprint scanner. Kudos to him for being

upfront about the fact that a second scanner was not mandatory and that it could not be used for

secondary purposes such as child IDing, but instead factually stating that it would merely save the

officers from having to drive detainees to Maple Ridge for fingerprinting. It was obvious to all that there

was a going to be a cost savings from no longer having to incur transportation expenses from driving to

Maple Ridge to fingerprint detainees, but again, despite several questions from around the table, no one

seemed to ask the question that to me would seem the most pertinent; “How long until this scanner will

pay for itself?” If it’s going to take 20 years for the scanner to pay for itself, and by that time we’ve

moved to retinal scanners or some other new technology, is it really a smart investment? Not saying it’s

*not* a good investment, just wondering (approximately)*how good* of an investment it is.

Regardless, council was unanimous in its decision and the Pitt Meadows Police Department will now be

the proud owners of a new digital fingerprint scanner.

The council in committee meeting then shifted gears as Lori from the Economic Development

Corporation took the floor with a Powerpoint presentation to propose a three month pilot project

offering Segway tours of the Pitt Meadows dykes. There were several safety, route, bylaw and facility

concerns raised by council members regarding this project and Councilor Murray took the opportunity

to point out that Jimi Helseden, the owner of Segway himself, died by accidentally driving his Segway off

a cliff beside his own home. But me personally, well, I took this opportunity to test out a Segway. I

hopped on that beast like it was my last day on Earth and found that it was surprisingly easy to balance

on and maneuver, even in the small committee room, and would welcome an opportunity to ride it

around the dykes. That said however, I’m comfortable during frontside flips over the hip at the

skatepark so, rider beware. Councilor Elkerton voiced her concern that Segways and horses/dogs/kids

probably don’t mix and that accidents involving expensive horses could be a major issue. I share her

concerns. But I guess we’ll see over the course of the three month pilot project whether they are

warranted or not.

To follow up the Segway presentation City Administration Officer Kim Grout then gave a presentation

on the business planning guidelines for city staff in 2015. The main point of this presentation, which

was verbally applauded by all, was to have city staff work from a “zero based budget” and build from

the ground up to determine the budget required to deliver the base level of services. This concept

was accompanied by an entire list of questions that staff could ask themselves in order to determine

if a service was required and whether the expense for the service was appropriate. Councilor Bell

nearly kissed Ms. Grout he was so appreciative of this new approach. His enthusiasm was electric and

contagious and I too found myself looking forward to how this new approach will change the way public

money is utilized in Pitt Meadows.

Ms. Grout’s presentation also included a schedule for reviews and deliberations which was openly

welcomed by all but especially by Councilor Murray who mentioned that having budget deliberations in

January is great timing since it would be a way for new councilors or a new mayor to get their feet wet

after November’s election. Mayor Walters chuckled softly to herself at this and then smiled courteously

although her skin tone may have shifted a shade towards the crimson. She then took the opportunity to

mention that she’d recently had a group of citizens approach her to say that they actually wanted more

services and were okay with paying increased taxes to support them. Her point being that citizens know

that services come at a price and that many are willing to cough up more dough to increase the current

level of services. I looked around the room and saw more than a few stunned faces at these remarks...

especially amongst the citizens who were sitting in the back row with me.

Ms. Grout followed up her budget guidelines presentation by proposing that a Consultant be hired to

conduct a “Service Inventory Assessment” report which would help city staff see which city services

were vital, how they could save on these services and compare the Pitt Meadows city budget with other

municipalities. The cost was stated to be around $45,000 which resulted in several councilors’ jaws

bouncing off the table. Councilor Elkerton, after picking her jaw up off the table, mentioned that this is

something that they as city staff are already doing, something that the budget guidelines just mentioned

are designed to help accomplish, and that the only thing they would be really paying for is the ‘municipal

comparisons’ aspect. “This should be done in-house” was the consensus amongst Elkerton, Bell and

Murray and it was at this point, that the “sides” our municipal leaders are on became readily apparent

to me.

The split had been subtly noticeable prior to this, but it was only right then that it became glaringly

obvious, at least to me. Councilors Elkerton, Bell and Murray seem to be on one team while Councilors

O’Connell, Miyashita and Mayor Walters are on the other. In this instance Elkerton, Bell and Murray

all pointed out that paying a consultant to do this report would be a huge waste of taxpayers’ money.

O’Connell, Miyashita and Walters said that city staff are already taxed with a heavy workload and that

“fresh eyes” could help come up with new ways to keep spending in check without removing essential

services. For me personally I can see both sides as having valid points. Having fresh eyes and task-
specific experience is always valuable to any team, but $45K on a report that could easily be done by

already paid officials seems unnecessarily wasteful. Hook me up with half that money and I’ll have a

stellar report sitting in council’s lap in under a month! Personally, I side with “the opposition” on this

As I’m writing this I’m find myself getting lost in an interesting inquiry; one I don’t know that I have an

answer to yet. Is it possible to take “the personal politics” out of politics? I don’t know the answer to

this question but hopefully the mere act of posing it can help to stimulate some discussion that could

help better the system in time.

Anyway, in an effort to stay on track and find some sort of conclusion here I’ll share how the meeting

adjourned. After discussing a few more items on the agenda it was time for public questioning. One

fellow took the opportunity to point out that taxes have increased by approximately 100% over the

course of the last 15 years and that in no way have wages increased at an equivalent rate. And to

please keep this in mind as council deliberates over the upcoming budget. Council thanked him for the


Then Andrew Thompson, who is campaigning for a position on council in November’s election, asked

why some councilors rejected the proposal for a service assessment consultant... the animosity was

practically dripping from his mouth. But before anyone on the opposition could field the question

Councilor O’Connell jumped to the plate. She answered that while she can’t speak for everyone, this

is a democracy, and each council member gets to vote how they feel is right. The look on Thompson’s

face showed that this was not the answer he was hoping for but it was an apt one I thought. Because

even though many of us may at times think that our governing system is broken, at least our system

is a democratic one. That’s more than countless others on this planet can say so we would do well to

remember to be grateful and to take full advantage of our right to participate in our political system.

By Carson Zi 

Carson is Pitt Meadows local who prides himself on being a loyal father and husband. He works as

a Locomotive Specialist for General Electric, is a world renowned meditation instructor, and hosts a

weekly podcast called Seek and Destroy.