Getting Things Right

Last week I wrote a letter to the editor of the Democrat-Herald correcting some misinformation about sewer rates from another letter writer.  The DH has a feature that allows for online commentary, and my letter prompted a few interesting responses.  The one below was submitted by a modest commentator who uses the nom de plume “Ultimate Judge.”

“Isn’t it interesting, City Hall never ever makes a mistake and they never own up to anything that even smells of an error.  They drag their feet on new industry or business, we are a very depressed business area, and yet, they want to raise sewer rates, and this rate and that rate, and this permit fee and that permit fee.  I say we throw the whole bunch of “bums” out….they don’t deserve to be there.  I know school kids that have more brains than this bunch and they can prove it….”

If the commentary above was intended to provoke an admission of fallibility, I’m happy to oblige.  Last week’s newspaper carried an article and editorial pointing out some errors in the publication of our approved budget.  The reader who noticed the errors provided an important public service and helped us correct some procedures so that we are less likely to repeat the mistakes in the future.  Like everyone else, people who work at City Hall make errors; and I don’t think there is anyone here who “wants” to raise rates or fees for services.  Albany’s utility rates are rising primarily because the City was required to build a new wastewater treatment facility and chose to construct a water treatment plant some years ago at a combined cost in excess of $100 million.  It’s really a little late to throw out the “bums” most responsible for those decisions, and it would be an act of ignorance to do so even if they were still around.  Communities need updated water and sewer infrastructure to serve residents, business, and industry; and the combined cost for both in Albany is less than what most people spend for television service.

Anonymous rants seem to be increasing in number and vitriol as electronic media continue to carve into the role of the daily newspaper.  Our best antidote is objective truth and greater transparency in all we do.  Bob Woods and Matt Harrington’s latest creation, “Where Does My Money Go?” is another unique resource available on the City’s website that helps citizens understand more about local government.  It was refreshing to see the following commentary in the Salem Statesman-Journal this morning:

This week’s winners and losers in the news

WINNER: City of Albany. It’s a model of financial transparency, with a comprehensive website called “Where Does My Money Go?” The website is updated nightly, allowing residents to track city spending of their tax dollars. City staff members created the site, without needing to hire consultants or incur special expenses. Other local governments, school districts and the state can learn from Albany’s example.

We will make mistakes in the future; and, with the right attitude, we will learn from them and perhaps gain the wisdom of “school kids that have more brains….”  In the meantime, we try to get things right and, as noted by the Salem paper, occasionally do.