An online poll on our website is hardly scientific but it does capture a snapshot of the community's feelings on an issue.
In the case of Coun. Cameron Stolz, 883 visitors to The Citizen's website have made their feelings known loud and clear. Sixty-three per cent of them believe Stolz should step down from city council for not paying his taxes for three years.
Stolz stepped down as the chair of city's finance and audit committee two weeks ago when his home was included on a list published in The Citizen on Sept. 6. His home was not on the list when it was published a second time on Sept. 25 because Stolz had paid up his tax bill by then.
The list is published as a Tax Sales of Lands notice because the homes that remain on the list as of Sept. 30 are eligible for auction that day.
While Stolz broke no laws by withholding his city taxes for three years and he paid the bill in full, with interest, that does not excuse him from his actions. It is reasonable for residents to expect their elected officials to not only do no wrong but also to do the right thing.
Surely Stolz recognized that not paying his taxes while continuing to collect his income as a city councillor and making important recommendations and decisions about city spending was inappropriate.
Furthermore, he ran for re-election in 2011 with his taxes already one year in arrears. If voters had known that, would they have voted for him? Would Stolz vote for any candidate, other than himself, who had an outstanding municipal tax bill? It is also reasonable for residents to expect their local elected officials to be both responsible caretakers of the public purse and to set an example as contributors to that purse. Meeting the minimum requirements and paying every three years does not meet that expectation. That expectation is a reasonable one. It shouldn't have to be in a rule book that politicians have their taxes up to date. It should be common sense.
Stolz said he didn't pay his taxes because of business troubles, which he has since fixed (full disclosure: I have been a semi-regular shopper at Stolz's business for years). In other words, taxpayers unknowingly provided bridge financing for Stolz to weather some difficult times at his business until times got better. If he or any other politician would have the nerve to ask voters for a three-year tax holiday so their business could stay afloat, the response would be laughter at the gall to make such a ridiculous request.
Better to ask for forgiveness than permission, they say, and that's what Stolz is doing here but his request should be turned down flat and not just by residents but also by the mayor and his council colleagues.
Sadly, Mayor Shari Green and councillor Murry Krause and Lyn Hall have agreed to let Stolz remain on the finance and audit committee. The appropriate response should have been for the mayor to kick Stolz off the committee immediately. Allowing him to remain says that mayor and council remain confident in his judgment, even when that judgment has been shown to be seriously lacking.
A poor decision made in the heat of the moment is forgivable but a poor decision repeated and then allowed to stand for nearly three years is unacceptable.
If Stolz doesn't understand the outrage over his careless blunder, that demonstrates blindness to the concerns of voters. If he does understand, but chooses to remain on city council until his term expires next fall, that demonstrates a willful disregard to voters and to his fellow members on city council.
Forgiveness has to be earned and an apology is just words without meaningful consequences. Coun. Stolz would go a long way towards earning that forgiveness and appearing sincere in his apology by immediately resigning from his seat on city council.