Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Council Needs to Find Solutions, not Perpetuate the Problem

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. - Albert Einstein

As I said at Monday's council meeting, Josef Tesar is a victim of his own success. If he wasn't good at running a bar, a legitimate business in an area that is zoned to allow such businesses, this issue wouldn't have shown up at council yet again. Asked for permission to build a parking lot on a lot that he owns adjacent to his business, in the hopes that doing so will lessen the number of people parking on nearby city streets, council voted not to allow this. The result - people will continue to go the the Belly Up Bar, park on residential streets, and annoy the people who are unfortunate enough to live in the neighbourhood, who remember the good old days when the building housed a closed business.

Don't get me wrong - I sympathize with the residents. I get annoyed when Ecole Valois is rented on a warm summer night for a party or a concert, and I get to listen to music that I don't particularly like, and see people throwing up on the boulevard or getting into fights. And whenever that happens, I think of the people who have called me over the years to ask what can be done about the Belly Up. But refusing approval for the parking lot does nothing to solve their problem. Council needs to think about this creatively - what can we do that will allow a good business man - an asset to any community - continue to run his business?

I suggested that council could work with Mr. Tesar to see if there was a possibility that his business could be relocated downtown - he could run his business, and downtown would get a bit of a boost, particularly in the evening when it tends to become somewhat lifeless. I got absolutely no response to this. So much for trying to work with people to come up with new solutions. As Councillor Gervais said after the meeting "We solved nothing - we're going to be dealing with this for the next ten years."

I see that the local paper also has an article about the independent review that I mentioned in yesterday's post. I was mostly amused by the comments of the councillor who is quoted as saying that the impetus for his motion was "the amount of calls that I received from people in Lee's ward and around the city in shock over what he did." I'm just wondering how those people got in touch with someone whose phone number isn't listed in the phone book. Mind you, an amount could be as few as one... I wish that the thirty or forty people who have contacted me, upset because they don't have recycling bins that they have been paying for, (an issue which I have raised at council at least a dozen times) received the same kind of action. And since the city yard is full of unused bins, distributing those bins is probably a cheaper solution than hiring a lawyer.

If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything. - Mark Twain

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

January 28 Council Meeting - Another Lost Opportunity

"A clash of doctrines is not a disaster - it is an opportunity" - Alfred North Whitehead

Last night's council meeting was another in a long line of lost opportunities - lack of questions, planning, or serious debate before we made yet another short-sighted financial commitment. This council operates as though any question or disagreement is to be squashed as quickly as possible, not answered or discussed in the hopes of making a better informed decision.

The decision in question last night was providing additional funding - $10,000 - to the Art Hauser Centre so that they can hire a consultant to do a marketing strategy. Now, the way this council has been committing money lately (before preparing the city budget or setting priorities) $10,000 probably doesn't seem like a lot of money. However, who knows how many speed bumps in school zones that could fund - something that I first proposed to council a couple of years ago, after being asked to by the Ecole Valois Parents' Council. More recently, it made front page news in the local paper after it was proposed by the Youth Council. However, apparently it's recognized in the draft budget, but not recommended. I haven't been given any reason why, nor was I consulted by city administration on this matter.

But to get back to this marketing strategy for the Art Hauser Centre. I voted against this for a couple of reasons. The first is that a year or so ago we hired a marketing manager for the Centre, at considerable expense. One of his responsibilities was to prepare a marketing strategy. Although he has since left the Centre, I would like to know what happened to that marketing strategy. Rather than pay for a new strategy, why not try the old one? The second reason is that these funds will come out of the capital reserve - this is money that's supposed to reserved for facility repairs at the Centre in the future - saving for a rainy day, as it were.

Council also voted to spend more of your money to seek an outside legal opinion on whether I have breached my oath of office in joining the lawsuit of previous council members, trying to get RRSP payments that are owed us, not paid due to mistakes made by administration. Current council is getting these benefits; I and other former council members feel that the council that developed the plan and did the work should get what they are owed. In any case, it is before the courts, and the courts will decide. Despite ill-informed allegations that you may have heard, council has had no meetings, secret or otherwise, to discuss any strategy on this particular case - none that I was invited to, at least. I have no control over the outcome; neither does anyone else on council. I don't understand the logic of spending even more money on what's starting to feel like an attack on me personally, rather than spending council time on many of the serious issues that are within council's mandate - serious fiscal planning, crumbling infrastructure, tax rates that appear to be headed for another increase.

However, only Darcy Gervais, Shawn Williams and I felt that this would be a waste of tax dollars.

I appreciate the phone calls and emails of support that I've been receiving - citizens seem to feel that my approach of asking questions and standing by my principles is what they expect from a city councillor, and I'm hearing a lot of anger and disappointment that this council is not operating in an open and honest manner. I'll end this post with another, more famous quote courtesy of William Shakespeare: "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man." Not bad advice for anyone to try to follow.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Why Blog? Why Now?

So I've started a Blog. Why?

I've been representing Ward Three on Prince Albert City Council since 2000 - more than seven years now. It's a responsibility that I take seriously, and a privilege that I appreciate the residents of Ward Three entrusting me with, through three elections so far. But one of the problems that I've found is keeping up ongoing communication with the people that I represent, or other residents of the city. People can phone, and do (my number is in the book - 922-5313), and many stop me on the street or in a store to ask questions and offer their suggestions. But a blog gives me the opportunity to communicate to a wider audience on a regular basis what's going on at City Council, what are the issues that are being discussed, and the reasons for my stance on these issues. It also has the further advantage of giving you the opportunity to ask questions, to provide your input and ideas on issues, and to suggest ways that the city could work better.

Why now?

I've been thinking about blogging for several months, but recently a number of issues have been raised at council and I'm not sure that the total picture has been presented by the local media. I can't, of course, provide the full picture, but I can provide more background information, and my perspective. When it comes right down to it, we each have our own perspectives and principles - I think that it's only fair to let you know where I'm coming from.

My job as a City Councillor is to help to make decisions that affect the well-being of Prince Albert and its residents. I feel that, before making these decisions, Council needs to discuss all options, get input from experts and from the people who will be affected by the decisions, and then make the best, most informed decision possible. This requires asking questions, pointing out possible pitfalls, and keeping the best interests of Prince Albert as the focus of all decisions.

I've been doing this, to the best of my ability, for the past seven years. Sometimes I have been the only one voting against a decision - my responsibility is to vote for what I believe is best, not based on appearances or emotion. Council decisions have long-term effects on the people of Prince Albert, and should be made transparently. I'm hoping that the information that I can provide through this will help with that transparency.

My plan is to update this blog after every council meeting, (that's every other Monday, so look for updates on Tuesday), letting you know what was discussed, important points that were raised, and my reasons for how I voted. I may also blog after Executive Committee meetings, which are usually held on non-council Mondays, depending on what's discussed at these meetings. In between, if questions are asked, or is an issue requires further comment, or if I think that there's something that my not be widely understood about council goings-on, I'll post something.

Please feel free to send me any questions, comments or suggestions that you may have. I don't expect everyone to agree with my perspective on every issue - in fact, if that happens, then we're not being honest with each other. But I do think that issues can be discussed respectfully, and only by doing so can we work together to make a better city, for all residents.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you.