Painting by Numbers
07/11/2015- Editorial by Renee Wilkins and Steve VanHorn
“Numbers aren’t facts”- at least according to City Councilor Cheryl Everett. The Councilor recently argued that numbers don’t really mean anything in an attempt to discredit the data supporting a reduction of the city water reconnection fees. At the same meeting she referenced numbers used in the water rate study to justify leaving the reconnect fee higher. Everett is known for making cryptic remarks (e.g., citizens should “connect the dots”), but we have to challenge this statement – if only to limit the spread of the bad thinking it encourages. Perhaps the Governing Body needs to spend more time painting, and even making decisions, by numbers.
Numbers paint a picture. In an age of statistical analysis and data-driven decisions, numbers are relied upon to approve contracts, validate the need for water line replacements and public safety equipment, and most recently to support or dispute the reasoning behind civil asset forfeiture for DWI. While it’s true that numbers can be manipulated, the same can be said for words. All the more reason we need elected officials asking intelligent questions and challenging the status quo.
We’ll concede that understanding the numbers can get a bit tricky, especially if they have been massaged. Some reports are so laden with hundreds of pages of numerical data that Governing Body members become intimidated or lose patience. Electing those who have the fortitude and brain mass to analyze these reports and conduct detailed follow-up research is the key to maintaining accountability of our city government.
Councilor Everett has routinely lauded city staff’s efforts to produce data laden reports and chastised Governing Body members who scrutinize the reports, defending the data she recently declared to be non-factual. Since this behavior could indicate a questionable relationship between staff and the Councilor, we hope she will ask herself whether it’s behavior that is ethical. Elected officials rely on the data provided by city department heads who often disagree with the direction of the Governing Body. It behooves our Governing Body to remain vigilant. Numbers drive the Governing Body’s decisions, for better or worse, and should always be verified. Most often the story written between the lines of data emerges when the numbers don’t jive.