• Gregory Z. Smith


Sometimes we have to stick our necks out, even if it means we will end up standing alone. I've done it a few times, usually not ending up completely alone, but there are those times.

This past Monday, I was prepared to vote for a rate reduction for some of our transit services; however, after I asked a few questions and listened carefully to the answers, I chose to vote no. I was starkly alone in that vote. Still, I know why I voted in good conscience as I did, and I have no regrets.

Here's a little history on the topic.

Earlier this year, members of City staff came to the Transportation Policy Review Committee, which I chair, with a proposal to start charging for some services which have been free. They presented good reasons for the charges, and I asked then some very direct questions about why they felt they were justified. While I anticipated that there would be objections from the public and possibly other Council members, I joined the vote to bring this to the City Council's attention.

What I didn't anticipate was that the Mayor would put the item on the consent agenda, where it would be voted upon without discussion along with the minutes from the last meeting and other items considered routine. I also happened to be out of town and calling in for the meeting. When no one else asked that that item be pulled from the consent agenda for discussion, I assumed all had read the changes proposed and the reasons for them, and were okay with making that change. So, I made the mistake of not asking for the item to be pulled and leaving that item on the consent agenda.

Thus, the change went into effect, people who had been getting free transit service started being charged, and we started hearing from a few users of the service. Fortunately, there are some programs to help people with such expenses, and some of our City staff members were helping people take advantage of those programs. Users were also adjusting their transit plans to be more efficient in their use of the service.

Nonetheless, when the Mayor later came back and proposed that we reduce the cost to the users by taking money from another account to cover the costs, I was comfortable with making that adjustment. That is, I was comfortable until it was suggested that the programs for helping people with the costs were working, people were adjusting, and some people were impacted more than others. I was about to ask that we table the reduction until we could get a better handle on how we best move forward, but I was persuaded to settle for simply voting down the reduction so that information could be collected with the current rate structure and assistance programs in place.

Unfortunately, no one else on the Council chose to vote as I did.

Perhaps I should take some solace in something Douglass MacArthur once said:

A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the equality of this actions and the integrity of his intent.

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