In the days following the terrible fire that destroyed Nolan’s on Canandaigua Lake, I have seen the public conversation shift away from initial sadness for the loss of a beloved community gathering place and concern for the business’s owners and employees to tilting headlong into full-throated condemnation of city government and its perceived failure to prioritize the safety of our community and the firefighting professionals serving it. There are a number of parties out in front of this debate:
- Two former fire chiefs accusing city government of either apathy (at best) or reckless indifference to the safety of our community (at worst).
- The city’s Republicans characterizing the fire response as a symbol of a Democratic-controlled city government’s incompetence.
- Area residents expressing valid concerns about the safety of their families and their property.
Most of these voices have coalesced around this conclusion: that Canandaigua would be safer if it had more career firefighters and that City Council is obstinately refusing to fund it, even though it really wouldn’t cost taxpayers that much. That’s the hasty conclusion and blame assignment currently percolating across social media, so grab the tar and feathers and go get ‘em!
But there’s an entirely different conclusion that I’ve reached and it’s this: I don’t have enough information to jump to a conclusion – all I have right now are more questions:
- What exactly are the national standards for a community of our size?
- Other communities depend entirely on volunteer departments, so what does the data say about the efficacy of departments like those?
- Are there opportunities to share more services with other local municipalities?
- If data support the staffing increased to the levels being discussed, what is the accompanying price tag and impact to property taxes?
- If additional staffing is possible, what can the firefighters union do to keep salaries and benefits affordable for the city?
- What’s the opportunity cost, i.e., the future initiatives that can’t be enacted because resources are going to increased fire department staffing?
- What services/amenities will we lose if the tax base can’t cover increased staffing?
- What do our property owners think is a reasonable increase in taxes to cover increased staffing?
And the questions go on and on, but that’s only appropriate, because the best approach in collaborative and transparent government is one in which questions, respectful inquiry and thoughtful deliberation lead to decision making.
Of course, I appreciate that safety issues by their very nature are urgent, but we must recognize that some of that urgency is driven by our human nature to “what if” this problem: what if there were more firefighters, couldn’t the building have been saved? What if people were trapped in the building and help didn’t arrive in time to get them out? But there aren’t enough resources in the world to answer every “what if” possible. And, one such scenario has occurred and thankfully did end well: the March 2017 house fire on Scotland Road from which three people were successfully rescued by the Canandaigua Fire Department under the leadership of acting Chief Ben Cramer and with the assistance of other area departments.
Of course, part of the reason none of us have more context about this debate is because there is a voice missing, and that’s the voice of City Council itself. I hope that our leaders will respond and respond soon with answers to some of these questions and with some historical context that illustrates the reasoning behind the decisions leading to our current state of affairs. Until I hear more of the facts around this issue, I have to reserve judgement. And that’s an important thing to know about me: if I am elected to represent Ward 4 on City Council, every vote I cast will based on careful consideration of the facts weighed against the best interests of our residents, and informed by the opinions of as wide a cross-section of my constituents as I can obtain. We are not always going to agree, but you will always know that even a vote you didn’t agree with was cast thoughtfully.
Start a conversation with me, and let me know what you think by adding a comment below.