That 4-3 vote is mostly just a misconception | Letters, Jan. 9

Have you seen the stories and editorials about the City Council being consumed in 2008 by 4-to-3 votes? See, for example, the Review’s end-of-year news recap (Dec. 31).

I think that’s a misconception, so, last week, I spent 15 hours logging every vote taken during the 43 council meetings (out of 49 in 2008) for which I could find meeting minutes. I ignored the the “Consent Agenda” and procedural votes, unless they were controversial or significant.

Mostly 4-3? Not by a mile. It turns out that two-thirds of the council’s 255 significant votes in 2008 were unanimous. And 85 percent of those votes were either unanimous or decided with only one or two votes in opposition or abstaining.

Only 25 of the 255 votes resulted in a 4-3 or 4-2 division between council members Franz, Peters, Snow and Stoknes versus Councilors Brackett, Knobloch and Vancil (or 2 of them, if one was absent).

Of those 25 with that particular division of council members, 10 were votes on just one subject – the Winslow Way reconstruction project.

Votes on that project resurfaced time and again in ’08 – being the subject of 17 different votes (most by 4-3, but some were unanimous) in the 43 meetings I reviewed. One vote (a unanimous one) approved a value-engineering study suggested by Kim Brackett.

Several other votes reduced the cost of the project by one-third, down to $12 million. Some votes approved seeking grants and contributions that eventually resulted in receiving $7 million, thereby replacing local tax dollars.

That means that not one dollar of our local taxes will go to the project from now to completion. Those grants and other cost-cutting reduced the project cost to our three utilities by a third, to about $5 million.

Council’s normal meeting schedule is twice a month – 24 meetings per year. Last year was not a normal year and, thus, the number of meetings more than doubled to 49.

The national economic downturn produced a 15 percent drop in expected tax and fee revenue that required huge budget amendments, and eventually more than $7 million of expense reductions in 2008. We downsized City staff from 152 in December 2007 to a budgeted level of 140 for 2009 and 135 for 2010.

Sometimes, misconceptions blur the true story. For example, some people keep referring to the Winslow Way infrastructure, street and sidewalk repair project as though it were a “Winslow Tomorrow” rezoning. That’s a misconception that has led to much more contention in 2008 than almost any other council issue.

That misconception surfaced again last Saturday in a Review op-ed piece by a local real estate consultant who chooses to characterize the infrastructure repair project as a “Winslow Tomorrow” zoning change and assault on the character of Winslow at the behest of “special interests.”

Repairing the broken sewer, the water pipes that don’t meet fire code, the faulty stormwater system and the dangerous sidewalks of our main street is an investment for our community, not a “special interest.” And the project will not involve or require any zoning changes.

It’s often said that controversy sells newspapers and makes political campaigns lively. In 2009, with a ballot question on the form of government, plus three council seats (and perhaps a mayoral position) to be decided, here’s hoping we see campaigns that discuss real solutions for real city problems, not campaigns based on misconceptions.

Barry Peters

Member, City Council