I hesitatingly elicit the subject of the Christmas day 911 call that sent police to the home of Mayor Ford, not to delve into his personal affairs – I’m 99.4 % convinced it’s none of my business – but as an example of his view on the nature of the municipal government he leads. We head into the last leg of the 2012 budget process where a once huge, terrifying deficit has magically transformed into a modest surplus. In this new light, what exactly does the mayor think is important? The need-to-haves versus the nice-to-haves.
The Christmas call was the third one in just two months made from the Ford household. The first one being, of course, the mayor’s own now infamous 911 call after he was set upon by the This Hour Has 22 Minutes gang as part of a skit for their show I didn’t realize was still running. A second call to 911 happened just 15 hours after the first which had passed my notice until the story about the 3rd call emerged.
Wow. Three 911 calls in two months. How many of those have I made in my entire life? How many times have police shown up at my house due to a 911 call?
There was that time a year or so ago when a woman standing beside me at an intersection, waiting for the traffic lights to change, sagged and dropped to the ground. Not being a doctor of any sort, I decided that if ever a circumstance dictated that I call 911, this was it. Then there was that previous time when… actually, that’s it, the degree of my 911 experience.
That is not to say I am a better person than the mayor or lead a more exemplary life. His brother Doug described the alleged Yuletide contretemps as a “minor disagreement and some misunderstandings”. Fair enough. Who doesn’t have those around the house on occasion?
But how many of us wind up calling or have others call 911 on us? Rarely? Infrequently? Almost never?
Again, that’s not to cast personal aspersions on the mayor or to suggest he audition for a role on the Fox show, COPS. It’s just that most of us view 911 as one of those nice-to-have need-to-haves. We don’t all rely on it but it’s good to know it’s there if ever we need it.
Like many of the services the city provides.
Mayor Ford, on the other hand, doesn’t see all of the city services as equal. He’s more inclined to downplay the ones he doesn’t use. Transit? Cut it. Libraries? Less is more. Kids’ nutritional programs? Gone. Oh wait. There’s some of those in my old ward? OK. They can stay.
The police budget? Well, hey. Doesn’t everyone have officers show up on their doorstep regularly? We can’t cut that. It’s a city service I use. In fact, here’s a little something extra for you guys, in these days of austerity. Less than you want but we’ll call it a cut and no one’ll be the wiser.
Again, I’m not implying anything nefarious about that. It just reflects a particular cloistered view of what constitutes a vital, important or essential service. The things we fund, the things deemed need to haves, are those that I myself use and rely on. Thus, we have a mayor who seems to believe that the only businesses the city should be in the business of being in are road maintenance, waste collection and policing. All the things he uses and that the city provides. Everything else is – and yes, you can say it along with me – gravy.
That’s what this upcoming budget fight is going to be all about. Personal priorities versus communal priorities. What’s in it for me versus what’s in it for us. And what gives the me, my and mine side a leg up is that the benefits are so immediate and tangible. Garbage picked up. Roads ploughed. Police appear when summoned.
The cost-benefit ratio for the us items is harder to gauge and, therefore, less obvious and easier to brush aside as a luxury. I get up and go to work/school every day without the city providing nutritional supplements. Why should I pay a fraction of a cent so someone else does? Amazon brings the books I want right to my house. Why should I be doling out my hard earned money so someone else can read and study for free? I drive my car to work. Everybody else should too, then we could get rid of all the streetcars that are so clearly the root cause of our congestion woes.
Smart city budgeting is not a zero-sum game. Choices have to be made, of course, but not every choice you make has to benefit you personally and immediately. That community centre program you choose to maintain might just keep that kid from getting into trouble and relieving you of the burden of calling 911 because you heard a suspicious sound in your backyard.
– S.O.Sly submitted by Cityslikr