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View from the Cordillera

A Commentary on Achieving Excellence in Local Government
Read by Municipal Leaders on 4 Continents
Published by the Cordillera Institute

Responding to Crises
Responding to Climate Change (Vol. 1, Issue 9)
Local-government agencies are no strangers to dealing with crises.  Every day, your emergency services (fire, police, ambulance, hospital, etc.) respond to a variety of crisis situations.  Because of their frequency and because of the years of experience local governments everywhere have accumulated in handling these immediate crises, you are generally well prepared to respond.  But, what about a crisis with which there is no experience and which may not occur for some years?  This issue responds to several urgent requests to say something about a matter of growing concern to governments around the world.  That matter is climate change or its more common name — global warming.  To address this 'impending crisis', this issue offers 5 rules for responding to major crises in general.  And, those rules are applied specifically to the climate-change question.

Responding to Climate Change: An Update (Vol. 2, Issue 8)
About a year before this commentary [in Issue 01.09], we discussed how to respond to the issue of climate change.  In this issue, we take another look at this question to see what is (or is not) new since our last report.  If this were simply a question of whether or not the earth is warming or cooling, it would not be a topic of discussion for this publication.  But, that's not the case.  The advocates of a man-made, global-warming crisis are attempting to make significant changes to public policy.  Since governments set public policy and since public opinion is the surest way to influence our elected officials, we see what steps have been taken in the past year that might influence public opinion on this question.  But, as always, our purpose is to go beyond the politics of an issue to determine how best to respond, based on the available facts.  Are there new findings to consider?  Have any of the concerns raised in our previous commentary been addressed?  We attempt to answer these questions within the framework of our 5 rules for responding to crises.  Based on the results of that analysis, we have updated our recommendations.  If climate change is an issue in your community — or if you expect it to become an issue — you will want to read this latest commentary.

Responding to Climate Change: Annual Update (Vol. 3, Issue 19)
Back in 2006 [in Issue 01.09], we discussed how to respond to what the major media were calling the global-warming crisis.  This is our 2nd update on what has become a very controversial subject.  [For the 1st update, see Issue 02.08.]  In this issue, we take another look at this question to see what is — or is not — new since our last report.  As always, our purpose is to go beyond the politics of an issue to determine how best to respond, based on the available facts.  We do this within the framework of our 5 rules for responding to crises.  Since most such crises are accompanied by calls for significant policy changes and the spending of large sums of public money, it is vital that we identify the proper response.  It's 1 thing to risk our own time or money on a prediction.  It's quite another to risk resources entrusted to us by the public.  And, that's especially important this year since new results raise some very serious questions about the whole man-made global-warming hypothesis.

The High Price of Oil (Vol. 3, Issue 21)
How high will the oil price go?  And, more importantly, will it ever come down — or is this to be our future?  To be ready for our future, we need to answer that question.  Because, if the oil price stays up, our communities — and our world — will be very different places.  And, that will affect everyone in local government.  To know if the oil price will stay up, we need to know 2 things — what caused it to rise in the 1st place and what will make it fall.  In this issue, we examine the factors claimed by the major media as the causes of a rising oil price.  Who controls the price of oil?  What about the speculators?  Who are they and what role do they play?  What needs to happen to bring the oil price down?  What should local governments be doing?  With answers to these questions, we will be better able to see through the major-media claims to what is really driving the price of oil.  And, that will improve our chances of producing a favorable outcome.

How Can Local Government Reduce the High Oil Price? (Vol. 3, Issue 22)
Why are we so dependent on oil?  That's because it has played — and is still playing — such a major role in delivering our current high standard of living.  Some day, we'll find replacements for oil.  But, what should we be doing between now and then?  To answer that question, we take a look at what effects the current high oil price is having.  Next, we see what will happen if the price stays high — how it will affect our living standards and our way of life.  Then, we turn our attention to why the price isn't coming down yet.  Are there those in our senior governments who favor an on-going high price of oil?  If so, what do they have to gain?  You won't find answers to these questions in the major media.  As further evidence of the agenda of some of our senior-government solons, we assess the remedies being offered.  This commentary concludes by describing where all this leaves local government — and how best to respond.

Securing Our Energy Future Today (Vol. 3, Issue 24)
The price of oil has stumbled in its race to reach U$ 200 per barrel.  And, gasoline prices are down from their earlier all-time highs.  Will the oil price resume its climb or will 'gravity' pull it back down?  That will depend on the actions taken by our senior governments.  While these actions need to be taken in Canberra, in Ottawa, as well as in many state and provincial capitals, it is the U.S. Congress which holds the key.  For the next few weeks, the eyes of the oil world will be focussed on events in Washington.  For those of us involved with local government, the question is what should we be doing to see that it costs us less this Fall to fill our municipal gas tanks, run our equipment, and keep our workplaces as cool — or as warm — as the weather requires.  This commentary examines some options and recommends a course of action.

Energy Conservation: How to Avoid Tilting at Windmills (Vol. 3, Issue 25)
There is a great deal of discussion — and a growing sense of urgency — about changing the way our local governments operate.  We're being urged to take steps to reduce our overall energy consumption and to adopt alternatives to fossil fuels.  In response, a number of Saskatchewan municipalities are conducting energy audits.  A town in Missouri is generating its electricity with wind turbines.  In Australia, a Queensland community has been chosen for the building of a solar thermal power station.  And, there are more examples from California, British Columbia, and the State of Victoria.  The ingenuity and effort that local governments are applying to this energy-conservation challenge are remarkable.  Yet, the sheer number of these projects and the billions of tax dollars being spent raise a number of questions.  In this issue, we examine the objectives to be achieved, see how to weigh each objective, and determine how to evaluate individual projects.  Using these guidelines, you can avoid tilting at windmills and choose projects which will achieve your energy-conservation objectives for years to come.  And, that will reflect well on you, your organization, and your community.

Have We Seen the Last of High Oil Prices? (Vol. 3, Issue 37)
In our recent series of commentaries on the high oil price, energy conservation, and securing our energy future [Issues 03.21, 03.22, 03.24, and 03.25], we predicted that the price would fall — if the U.S. Congress lifted its roadblocks to increased domestic exploration and production.  On September 30, Congress allowed its bans on offshore drilling and oil-shale leasing to expire.  In the 2 months since then, the oil price has dropped to below U$50 per barrel (from its high of over U$150 per barrel).  During this period, a reader questioned our numbers and registered a concern with our recommendations.  In this issue, we start by providing the numbers for oil production, proven oil reserves, and recoverable oil resources.  Next, we see how the retail gasoline price has responded to key political actions.  Then, we examine a domestic mega-resource which is greater than the proven reserves of Saudi Arabia.  We consider the 'lifespans' of each of these petroleum resources to see whether the world is running out of oil.  The issue concludes with recommendations for what our local governments should be doing to avoid a return to a high oil price.

The Golden Fleecing: Laying the Eggs (Vol. 3, Issue 30)
After a flood of stories on the problems in the home-mortgage market, the major media have finally been 'rewarded' with a genuine financial crisis.  And, it comes right in the midst of a presidential election campaign in the U.S. and a federal election in Canada.  Why should this please many of those in the major-media newsrooms?  What has brought us to this point?  Where does responsibility lie?  In this issue, we separate the myths from reality.  We trace the roots of the current problems back to remedies that were force-fed to the financial markets during a far more serious crisis — the great depression.  Then, we review the 'facelift' given to Fannie Mae in 1968, the birth of Freddie Mac in 1970, the 1977 law which set the U.S. mortgage market on its path towards the brink, and the 1993 amendment to that law which greased the skids for the final push.  All of these represent the eggs from which the so-called bailout of the financial system was hatched.

The Golden Fleecing: The Bubble Bursts (Vol. 3, Issue 31)
This commentary begins with a response to requests for us to name the names and identify the party affiliations of those individuals most responsible for the current financial crisis.  Then, we continue our review of the events that led to this crisis.  Which other 'eggs' were added to Fannie's and Freddie's risky-mortgage baskets?  And, were they cooking something else — such as their books?  What caused their risky-mortgage 'stew' to boil over?  Was there any warning that this boil-over was coming?  How did the 'sous-chefs' in the Congressional 'kitchen' respond?  When the risky-mortgage bubble finally burst, there was widespread collateral damage.  This commentary concludes with a discussion of what happened to those financial institutions that were brought down by the collapse of Fannie and Freddie — and the event in 2002 that led to their demise.

The Golden Fleecing: The Cuckoo and the Fox (Vol. 3, Issue 32)
According to a recent article in the financial press, Wall Street no longer exists.  The bull and the bear have been replaced by the cuckoo and the fox.  Like the cuckoo, the U.S. Congress laid a number of 'eggs' in the 'nests' of the financial markets.  In this issue, we see what hatched from those eggs and who became the victims of the hatchlings.  There was the shell game, the missing omelet, the bait-and-switch, and the one that got away.  Yet, all of this was just a preview for the hatching of a cuckoo chick on steroids.  Next, we meet the fox in its role as guardian of the henhouse where the golden eggs are produced.  Amidst the carnage on Wall Street, a cold wind from Washington is sweeping down Main Street.  This issue concludes with a forecast of the storm our municipalities may have to weather in the months — or years — ahead.

How Should Local Government Respond to ... Tragic Events? (Vol. 2, Issue 32)
The headlines on the tragedy of the bridge collapse in Minneapolis had barely dried.  Yet, already, those who put government first were calling for massive tax increases to repair what they characterize as our crumbling infrastructure.  It seems that, whenever there is a disaster, many of those same people are out there beating that same drum.  To this observer, it appears that those calling for more money today should have been doing much more in the past to fund the maintenance and repair of that infrastructure so that tragedies like this could have been avoided.  If and until we learn what caused this bridge to collapse, an ultimate assignment of responsibility will have to wait.  But, in the interim, we can apply the 5 rules for responding to crises.  That will enable us to develop a better response from local government and to identify what should be done in future to ensure that grim events like this are not repeated.

Responding to the Chronic Condition of Public Education (part 1) (Vol. 2, Issue 33)
A lengthy conversation with a recent honors graduate of our public education system illustrates a symptom of a serious illness in that system.  Just how serious is this condition?  What makes it so critical?  And, why should any of this matter to local government?  Aside from the very important fact that many of us are parents — who want the best for our children, sooner or later, these graduates will become voters.  If enough of them are uniformed — or misinformed — in matters of public policy and how our governments and our economy function, they may frustrate legitimate attempts to improve local government.  And, they may support policies which neither serve their own best interests nor the interests of their communities.  Yet, they may fervently believe that they are doing just the opposite.  So, how do they become misinformed?  Who is responsible?  And, what is their agenda?  Why would someone want to deliberately mislead our young people?  This issue offers a diagnosis of the problem and the motivation behind those responsible.

Responding to the Chronic Condition of Public Education (part 2) (Vol. 2, Issue 34)
The condition we examined in the previous issue is very serious.  And, as we've seen, it's deep-rooted and systemic.  The good news is that it can be treated.  And, the patient — our public education systems — can be healed.  In this issue, we start by considering the effects of this condition — notably the creation of inaccurate mental maps — on our children.  Treating this condition requires a 2-part approach — correcting the inaccurate maps and the even bigger challenge of fixing the system so that such maps are no longer produced.  To apply effective remedies, we need to know how this condition developed and how the 'immune' system was breached.  But, what if none of these remedies is readily available?  Of course, the key question is:  will these remedies ultimately cure the 'patient'?  As effective as they are, the recovery they bring may not last.  For a lasting cure, there is only 1 prescription.  If you are a new reader of this publication, it may surprise you.  If you are a long-time subscriber, I expect you have already deduced the answer.

How Should Local Government Respond to ... Funding Crises? (Vol. 2, Issue 35)
Sooner or later, your municipality may experience a funding crisis.  It may be due to a cutback in senior-government transfers.  It may be the result of a new senior-government mandate which you have to fund from your own resources.  It may be due to a major taxpayer relocating or going under.  Or, it may be the aftermath of a natural disaster.  How should your municipality respond if you find yourselves short of funds?  First, we see how not to respond.  Next, we examine why those who operate from the paradigm of government first try it anyway.  Then, we assess the risks they run in trying to fool the public.  But, since most local governments operate from the paradigm of people first, more often than not, the funding crisis will be real.  Yet, how do you convince the public that the belt-tightening you are going to request is legitimate and not just a tactic to raise their taxes?  There are a number of steps you can take to convince the public of your sincerity.  The preferred option is longer-term.  But, there are 4 steps you can take in the interim to build your credibility.  Of course, the best way to respond to a crisis is to take action beforehand to reduce the potential impacts.  To do that, we consider ideas for strengthening financial management, reducing the costs of borrowing, and increasing the productivity of operations.  And then, there's the ultimate solution.  While it won't protect against natural disasters or totally insulate you from the effects of a major taxpayer closing, this option will greatly reduce the impact of senior-government funding cutbacks and all but eliminate the threat of unfunded mandates from senior government.

How to Survive the Current Economic Downturn (Vol. 3, Issue 38)
Whenever the overall economy takes a turn for the worse, the major media will be full of stories about a coming recession.  Doom-and-gloom sells.  These days, some are even suggesting that we may be entering a full-blown economic depression.  In this issue, we examine whether we are actually in a recession; review what causes recessions; discuss the role of senior government in this current economic downturn; recap how the bubble in mortgage-backed securities burst; check the signs indicating how long this downturn may last; and see how we can protect our communities.  Any time the overall economy is weakening, the best strategy for our local governments is — don't participate.  No, that's not a typo.  This commentary explains what that means and where to start; how to improve your performance; and how to stretch your resources.  It concludes with some thoughts on why now is the time to take action.

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