In Our Opinion: CARES money should be spent on pandemic recovery

Apparently we have different Facebook friends than Zencity.

In its first report, the company the Oak Harbor City Council is paying $15,000 in CARES Act funding chose to focus on the island-wide power outage in November for an analysis of public opinion via social media.

Friday the 13th was a dark day on Whidbey. School was canceled. Traffic was confused as traffic lights blinked out. Cell phones and laptops ran out of power. Homes were cold. Crucial testimony in an important trial was interrupted. A man was murdered.

The Zencity report, however, concludes — and needlessly illustrates with blocky diagrams — that the response on social media was overwhelmingly favorable and no negative sentiment at all was expressed. A healthy number of posts thanked public works staff for their efforts restoring power, which of course they had nothing to do with.

Thank God the council now has their collective finger on the pulse of the community. Apparently people like outages, there are no other concerns and the city doesn’t need to do anything better.

Patting on backs should commence.

Oak Harbor also funded a business-promoting website — Oak Harbor CARES — that remains unfinished. The county, which needs help spreading COVID-related safety information, is using CARES money to pay $610 a week for 10 hours of work from the city’s public information officer, who is the one that came up with the idea of hiring Zencity and took public credit for the website.

These may not be wise uses of CARES Act funding, but Whidbey is not alone in this. Stories from across the nation illustrate how so much of the money — which was meant to help regular people and businesses during the pandemic — has been misdirected to large corporations or projects that have nothing to do with the pandemic.

When vast sums of money are flowing around, it may seem trifling to quibble about comparatively trivial amounts.

But quite the opposite should be the case.

Now more than ever, it’s important to make every dollar count. That $15,000 could have meant the difference between staying open or closing for a small Oak Harbor business. Or it could have been used to hire a local person with knowledge of the Whidbey social media landscape to provide real insight.

“Spending your money wisely” and “buying local” shouldn’t just be catchphrases for government, but guiding principles.