As much as I love numbers, I probably love graphs and charts even more. To me, numbers are the most perfect thing in the universe. There is nothing subjective about mathematics. Numbers are based on pure fact, not emotion. An equation only has one answer. See? Perfect!
Charts are also based on facts, but they can also be works of art. Take a budget, for example. The line items of income and expenditures tell a story to those who are willing to hunker down and study the facts and figures and comparisons. Anyone with the fortitude it takes to study a budget will be able to grasp a firm understanding of an entity’s financial viability.
But nothing beats the visual impact of a chart. Charts are especially wonderful for those of us with short attention spans or age onset dyslexia or lost reading glasses.
Take this lovely line graph with the nice blue line, for example.
I won’t pretend to understand this graph completely. What I do understand is that a utility the size of the North Miami Beach Water Department is supposed to have approximately $50 million in reserve for infrastructure improvements and repairs. I also understand that the City now has approximately only $2 million in reserve. What this means is that should the utility suffer a catastrophic failure at the plant or in the distribution system, we lack the funds necessary to address the problem.
I also understand that by not maintaining adequate reserves, the utility’s Fitch Rating (the ability to borrow money) was downgraded. Basically, by wiping out the reserves, the City of North Miami Beach has damaged the borrowing power it needs in case of emergency. In layman’s terms, we are screwed.
So, that’s the extent of my financial expertise. I won’t pretend to understand it in depth, and I’m sure reading a report won’t help me get a better grip on the situation.
What I do know about line graphs in general is that lines going up are good things and lines going down are bad things. Unless, of course, we’re looking at unemployment rates, but in this case I’m pretty sure that up is good, and down is not.
A closer look at this graph (click the image to enlarge it) will show you that the blue line, which starts in the middle of the year 2006, keeps going up, up, up, like a ski lift. In the middle of 2008, the line is still going up, but it starts to level off slightly. Then suddenly, right smack in the middle of 2009, the line makes a sharp downturn like a skier going down a really steep mountain.
Gee, what happened in the middle of 2008 that slowed the growth?
Oh, wait! I know! That’s exactly the time that former city manager, Kelvin Baker was hired!
And then what could have happened in the middle of 2009 that caused such a sudden reversal of fortune?
Oh, wait! I know! That’s exactly when the former mayor Myron Rosner took office!
How ’bout that?
Need I go any further or is this picture really is worth 50 million words?
“Spreading the Wealth”