If I were a customer, I would ask for my money back

First off – yes – it’s easy to be a critic. Critics criticizes and rarely do anything about it. In my defense, I tried to do something. I did run for municipal council. I didn’t win. And that’s perfectly fine with me. In retrospect, I wonder if some ran for council just to make sure others didn’t get in. But that’s another story for another time.

I’m beginning to think that my loss was a blessing (I know, all losers say that just like all nominees say it was an honour to be nominated). But really, it was. Frankly, of late, I’m seeing a decision-making process that makes fools of our well intentioned mayor and council. But I also see a council who defend decisions by saying they didn’t have all the information therefore made the best decision they could. This does nothing to bolster my confidence in the institution whose ranks I once wished to join.

Now, I like the new City Hall. I do. Many don’t. When you spend that much public money on a building, it would be better if more people liked it. But they don’t and that’s their choice. So be it. There are, however (and you knew this was coming) a few things that irk me to the nth degree. Here goes.

Item one on the agenda – the agenda. In a nine million dollar building, please tell me there’s a better way to post the official business of council other than sticking a photocopied piece of paper in the window with scotch tape or using a bulletin board circa 1972 with push pins to display other relevant information at the Chambers entryway. I know. Petty. But annoying none the less.

The next item on the agenda also relates to signage. One that was planned and thought out and far more annoying that item one. In the lobby, above the reception counter to the left are spelled out in big letters the words “customer service”. Well I hate to break it to you but I am not a customer. And neither are you if you pay property tax. You’re a taxpayer, a shareholder, a community member, a volunteer, a neighbour – but a customer, my friend, you are not.  A customer implies two things. One – you had a choice and could have offered your custom elsewhere – not true. Two – if you were a customer you could return the goods and ask for your money back – also not true. However, after recent events, I wish I were a customer because I would be asking for my money back, so help me, I would. And here’s why.

1) The City of Salmon Arm in British Columbia, Canada awarded its website contract to a firm in Kansas, not in British Columbia, not in Canada.
The firm in question has more employees than the City of Salmon Arm does. The firm in question does nothing but municipal websites. The firm in question will do the job well. But that’s not the point. The point is that the City purported to go “local” on the tendering by offering one firm a chance to bid on the process knowing full well that no firm in Salmon Arm could do the job. True. I know because that was my firm. But I also know that if that RFP was indeed drafted from scratch word for word by City staff, they wouldn’t need to go to RFP for it. They could have built the darn thing themselves – that’s how technical the requirements were – and this is what happens when big firms help small towns figure out how to get shiny new websites.  To mention nothing of the request for speculative design (free work for consideration of award) which is an unethical practice at the best of times especially so when public funds are up for the taking. But council defended the decision saying they voted with the information they had. So be it. We move on. Or do we? No wait, there’s more.

2) The city voted to approve participation in a $25,000 infommercial produced by a, shall we say legally questionable, firm in Florida.

Florida? Home of swamp land and shady corporations? Now we’re sending money to Florida? Swamp land may well be a better deal. At least we could try reselling it. But the recommendation was made to them by their very own, funded to the tune of $300,000 Economic Development Society. Surely to heavens they’d never recommend an ill-fated scheme? Again, they voted with the information they had. And agreed to it they did. Why the fuss. What’s $25,000 between publicly funded friends – no biggie. You know what, it is a biggie. It’s arguably the single”biggie”est advertising purchase we’ve ever made in one shot (well except for the website business in Kansas). The city of Salmon Arm and its funded agencies and other agencies funded by other levels of government have never ever ever paid $25,000 for any single advertisement ever. And if you must pay, then make no mistake, it’s an advertisement pure and simple – not a TV show hosted by a retired football star featuring specially selected mid sized towns in BC who meet a special criteria and are offered the honour of participating in coverage that will be broadcast in “select affluent US television markets”. If you believe that, maybe you should buy some swamp land in Florida. I feel sure our new found television friends could recommend a good realtor.

So what. Do I feel better now. Not really. Well maybe a little. Blogging is good for the soul. But back to the issue. We have no plan. Nothing says “we have no plan” like “hey Salmon Arm, let’s spend $25,000 on a Florida infommercial to promote our Kansas-built website”.

Some people go to ball games or watch hockey to relax. I like to think about politics and economics which probably means you won’t be inviting me to your next bbq, but I digress. So it won’t come as much of a surprise to you that I’ve researched how much money is spent municipally, provincially and federally on local “economic” development initiatives. You might want to take a deep breath for this. I stopped counting at 3.5 million. Last I checked, there are only 16,000 people in town. Let me do the math for you. 16,000 people, and about 1,200 businesses – or approximately $3,000 per business (even the little wee ones like mine) or $218 per person (even the wee ones like the ones living in my house). If that doesn’t get your attention, then you really are a die-hard baseball fan (baseball statistics are even more complicated than that so maybe we do have something in common afterall).

So please, if anyone is reading, the idea of spending $25,000 on an infomercial is no better than buying tires for a car you don’t own yet. Or carpet for a house you haven’t build. Get a plan. Follow the plan. Analyze the results and repeat. But do not pass GO – you’ll never get that $25,000 back. Ever. And you’ll have all the US market exposure you didn’t need to prove it. We’ll never get our money back as taxpayers, but with any luck, smarter more thoughtful heads will prevail and we can make sure that Florida doesn’t get it either.

Cheque please! I’ve had my fill.Best I leave before they call the Customer Service Manager.

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