Sunday, March 1, 2009

Eschewing Obfuscation & Espousing Elucidation

Please pardon the title, which is intended as a mild spoof of an e-mail which invites recipients to view another blog piece, entitled 'Greenways III: Policy and Practice Disaster'.
This e-mail, from Barbara Ryan on the subject of:'Chuckanut Ridge Exigesis', invites comments, and calls the GW3 the most divisive issue in her eleven years on the Council.
And, as she avers 'there are many lessons to be learned'.
I certainly do agree with that statement!

But first, why use an unusual word like 'exigesis'?
I had to look it up.
After doing that, I wondered why the word 'hermeneutics' wasn't used instead, because it seems have a somewhat wider -and less Biblical- sounding application.
But I digress.
Instead, the below is offered:
From Wikipedia:

▪ "Eschew obfuscation", also stated as "eschew obfuscation, espouse elucidation", is a common humorous saying of English teachers and professors when lecturing about proper writing techniques.

▪ Literally, the phrase means "avoid ambiguity, adopt clarity", but the use of relatively uncommon words causes confusion, making the phrase an example of irony, and more precisely a heterological or hypocritical phrase (it does not embody its own advice).

▪ The phrase has appeared in print at least as early as 1959, when it was used as a section heading in a NASA document.

▪ An earlier similar phrase appears in Mark Twain's Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses, where he lists rule fourteen of good writing as "eschew surplusage".

On a issue as hotly debated as GREENWAYS why not make the discussion as simple to understand and fact-based as possible?
I know that different people subscribe to different definitions and versions of 'facts', but we should all be able to agree on what is simple to understand and is reasonably verifiable.

With this in mind, let me share what I think might have been -or should have been- some 'lessons learned':

1. Always be truthful, because that way individuals -and the public- can remember not only what was said, but the context of it, as well as likely results.

2. Avoid unnecessarily taking firm sides too early in a public discussion, especially one that will eventually require the broad consensus of the community, and may involve the 'earmarking' public funds.

3. Respect -in word and deed- the concepts of transparency and fairness, particularly when tempted or pressured to make any back-room deals with constituents. Do not consciously avoid openness!

4. Rather than reaching questionable -or even illegal- agreements outside of public meetings, rely instead upon clearly stated goals and not verbal -or 'fine print'- nuances which so often can lead to problematic misunderstandings.

5. Always strive for a Council consensus that can last and unite, not forced simple and divisive majorities, especially on matters of wide community interest and scarce voluntary funding.

That's about it for me, but others may have other ideas.

Now, a brief comment on the aforementioned other blog entry:

• Most of the history and interpretations therein appear to be accurate, although the article is by no means comprehensive.
There are significant gaps, either dictated by space & time limitations, or by design, or ignorance.

• The statement that I had nothing to do with the idea of freeing up an additional $2million for acquisition purposes is NOT accurate, and I invite the author to reconsider this particular statement.

• The comments on omission of clear language from the legislation authorizing the GW3 levy strain any serious attempt at logic, and are patently incorrect. One can try to reconstruct history -which can be healthy- but revisionism is a different matter!

• I don't believe for one moment that former Councilor Beardsley was 'bullied' into anything. That statement simply demeans her independent spirit, her astounding logical and intellectual abilities, and most of all, her personal integrity.

• Then, this interesting statement:
'What concerns us most is the question that Chuckanut Ridge opponents have sown about their government and this process. The secretive property acquisition process itself is rife for these accusations. These are among the very few discussions that can be held in Executive Session, without public scrutiny. In order to continue to set aside land for parks and open spaces, some confidentiality must be maintained.'

I don't believe these concerns necessarily need to be focused on any one group, especially so-called CR OPPONENTS! Look into the mirror before making such comments if you intend to be taken seriously!

• Finally, regarding this statement:
'On January 12, the Greenways and Parks Boards decided that no more than $4 million of the $44 million levy should be spent on the Fairhaven Highlands property, known as Chuckanut Ridge. They made their recommendation public, for the first time, in the Council packet published Thursday, January 8'.

The Greenways Strategic Plan is something the Council requested be done following passage of the levy.
It has taken over 2 years for these carefully considered RECOMMENDATIONS to come forward.
They are not decisions, because those are made exclusively by the Council and no one else.

The fact that the number '$8 million' does not appear in any one place ought to be instructive.
What it probably means is there are other competing priorities for the guaranteed $6 million in south-side property acquisition money.
It is easier to understand the author's attitude on this when one takes into account her single minded focus on Chuckanut Ridge, but, wouldn't it be great if none of this money would need to be spent on CR?

Think about it.
The City will likely obtain 40+ acres of the 85 total for NOTHING after issuance of the developer's DEIS.
Any additional land needed for public right of way can likely be procured for less than $4, or maybe even $2 million,
unless, of course, there is yet another secret back-room deal in existence.

• No one I know is totally opposed to acquiring a reasonable portion of CR for the public good.
And, the author is certainly correct that whoever comprises the Council at the time any CR acquisition proposal is offered will determine that outcome.
So, why the attempt at forcing the issue now?
Is there some deadline looming that the author fears, or doesn't she trust future Councils to do the right thing?
There is more wisdom in a calmer approach now, and certainly one that doesn't try to intentionally inflame old animosities.

The author is correct that GW3 is one of the -maybe the most- divisive issues of the last decade or so.
But, she also needs to examine closely the role she, herself, has played in making that statement true!
After all, what goes around does come around....

This will -likely- end my commenting upon this particular subject, because I believe enough has now been said by me publicly, and I have some other personal priorities.
For those offended by my rather forceful and pointed comments, I do apologize for your your discomfort.
But, I am not one to remain silent when I feel things need to be said, or when I do also happen to be knowledgeable on an issue.

It is unfortunate that my relationship with the author, and the other Council Members in question, have come to this state of hard feelings.
Earlier in our respective, local political careers, we seemed to agree on much more than we disagared upon.
And, we were able to achieve some great things that have the prospect of enduring to the benefit of future generations of citizens.

Just to name a few:
The Silver Beach Ordinance, for example, and the Watershed Preservation & Acquisition Ordinance.
Pipe Line Safety reform, on a national and state level.
Enhanced public access to local government meetings.
Budgetary reform, of which more is desirable.
Charter review and revision.
Land use planning policies, including annexation requirements before extending water & sewer utilities.
Transportation policies, and implementation thereof.
Why not remember these significant successes instead of focusing on GW3's problems?
Actually, the fact that a $44 million GW3 levy was PASSED ought to be a wonderful cause for celebration!

But, as a Buddhist philosopher might say, 'your own mother will become your worst enemy'.
That seems a little extreme, but also directionally accurate.

At any rate, I wish the Councillors with whom I have served nothing but the best, despite any differences we might have had.
If I had to do it all over again, I would, but maybe with a little more forbearance than before, but one never knows.
This business of politics doesn't require a lot of training or qualifications.
What one learns, one learns on the job, for the most part.

I hope this piece helps to "eschew obfuscation and espouse elucidation", and not the opposite.
But, one can only hope that will happen.