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Maxed out

Unanswered questions



I may have to become a politician some day to ever truly answer the unanswerable: What the heck happens to people's brains once they become politicians? The problem, I suspect is, once you're close enough to get any real insight into the answer, it's too late; you've probably lost interest in the question that brought you to that low state of affairs to begin with.

The natural extension of this curiosity is the question of whether the intelligence-eroding process accelerates toward terminal velocity (a) the longer you stay in politics, (b) the higher the office you achieve, or (c) both of the above. I suspect the smart money is on (c).

While it's not Indiana Melamed's excellent archeological expedition to unearth the Lost Scrolls of (Mis)Communication Strategy that has given rise to this vexing question, that misadventure is, nonetheless, a good jumping off point. Before embarking on this journey into the heart of darkness though, it is most definitely worth noting the rich and comical irony surrounding this tempest in a TCUP.

Mayor: Mayor Melamed here.

Press: Hey Kenny, what's all this fuss about teacups? Our readers want to know.

Mayor: Er, sorry, I can't talk to you.

Press: Why not?

Mayor: According to our Communication Policy, your request has to first go to the municipal office of Miss Communication.

Press: No shit. When did this Policy get instituted?

Mayor: I'm not supposed to answer that question until you...

Press: I know, he's on first... oops, wrong comedy routine. I know, office of Miss Communication.

Mayor: Exactly. But what the heck, just for old times sake, I'll answer this one. Chalk it up to the rogue I used to be. The policy dates all the way back to 2005.

Press: How come this is the first I've ever heard about it?

Mayor: Is that another question?

Press: Is that?

Mayor: Don't play foxy with me. Okay, I'll answer that one. But no more questions for you! You didn't know about the communication policy because we didn't communicate it to you.

Press: Why does this remind me of the scene in Dr. Strangelove when he tells the Russian ambassador, upon learning the Ruskies have a doomsday weapon, 'The whole point of having a doomsday weapon is letting the other side know about it!!!'

Mayor: Perhaps you'd like to address that question to Miss Communication.

Press: What's their number?

Mayor: Sorry, I'm not authorized to answer that question. Goodbye.

I think the press can legitimately plead ignorance on this one. Ostensibly, way back in 2005 - hey, wait a minute, wasn't Kenny Mayor then? And wasn't Bill chief admino? - when this policy was launched, somebody other than the mayor and Bill must have known about it. Yet, in further comic relief, both councillor Ralph and councilor EZ, who were sitting councillors way back in 2005, said about the policy, "What? No shit? News to me." Or words to that effect. I can understand why EZ might not know about it; he tends to ignore things he considers too weird to believe. But Ralph? They don't come any more earnest than Ralph. If it got past him... hmmm, there's no good way to finish that sentence now that I think about it.

So we've got a communication policy that was so completely miscommunicated that nobody except the people who instituted(sic) it know about it. That's either the pinnacle of success or a complete comic farce. Being hung up on democracy, I'll let you decide.

Not surprisingly, there are a number of current councillors crying bushwah over this muzzle. EZ who, characteristically, went ballistic over it. Councillor Grant who said, "If my wife can't get me to shut up how much success do you think Ken's going to have?" Councillor Milner who said, "Communication is the worst part of what we do," and then, fortunately, added "and anything that curtails that I think is bad." And councillor TT who said I could talk to him any time as long as I promised not to e-mail him until, "I figure out this *#^%@ computer they made me take." Quinny just sneered and said, "Read my lips. I'll talk to whoever I want to, punk. And I'll wear a dress to council if I feel like it." At least he's got the legs for it.

The surprising figure in all this is, of course, Ken. Seeming to embody answer (c) above, Ken said, "It (ComPol) in no way, shape or form, is meant to limit the dialogue or the ability of the local papers to report on news." That is a statement only a seasoned politician could make without looking heavenward immediately thereafter with an expression pleading, "Oh please, God, not the lightning, not now... I have important work to do."

Let's parse the meaning of words and actions, since the two seem to be operating in parallel universes. The ComPol says the mayor and councillors can't speak to media unless and until the request goes through the office of Miss Communication. Now, to be completely fair, I'm not sure that's what it says. Aside from never having heard of the policy, I haven't read it either. That would worry me but I'm in such overwhelmingly vast company in never having seen it I shall continue to grope in the dark and assume it says something like that. In case you're interested, don't bother searching for "communication policy" on the muni website. It isn't there.

Going through an office where you are generally going to have a one-sided conversation with voicemail to get to a person who can answer your question is, in the real world, going to limit dialogue - by definition - and/or limit your ability to report the news in a timely manner. Especially now that council meetings take place on Tuesday and both local papers go to press on Wednesday. By the time OMC gets back to you and gives you clearance to speak with an elected representative and you ferret out the mayor's new unlisted phone number, what you end up with is olds... not news.

The really funny thing - can't figure out if it's funny ha-ha or funny weird, probably both - is back in the day, when Kenny was a thorn in the side of Mayors Nebbeling and O'Reilly, he would have gone all incendiary on them if they'd tried this. I know it, you know it, I suspect even he knows it. So what's changed.

Brings me full circle to the original question. I guess if I can't understand how an enlightened guy can take a position like this with a straight face, I'll never figure out how someone as powerful as Stevie Hapless can figure adopting the throw-'em-in-jail model he's borrowed from the U.S. is going to make inroads into gang violence in Vancouver.

(c), I have no doubt about it.