Last night was the opportunity for the public to make presentations to council with regard to the proposed city budget. This was the only opportunity groups or individuals had to make presentations, and to do so they had only between March 14 (when the budget was made available), and March 18 at 4:45 p.m. to apply to do so. Those days included a weekend. As I said in a previous posting, those who managed to do so deserve nothing but council’s thanks and respect.
Sadly, the response by council to the presentation by the Chamber of Commerce lacked both of those elements. Some members of council appear to think that input should only be made up of paeans of praise, and that any public input that might put a negative light on council should be publicly debated by council members, perhaps in hopes of discouraging further criticism and input. They forget that any citizen of Prince Albert, whether speaking as an individual or representing a group, has the right to comment on how their tax dollars are being spent – council has been elected by the citizens, and is accountable to the citizens, not only at election time, but continuously during the term of office. Any citizen should be able to ask any question about taxation or expenditures, at any time, and get an answer, not an argument. That is being open and accountable – a catchphrase that some members of council were trumpeting awhile back, but apparently without understanding its real meaning.
I’m amazed and embarrassed at this council’s inability to accept criticism for what it is – suggestions of ways that we can and should do better. When my children were younger, I spent part of each March attending the Prince Albert Music Festival, listening to their performances, and to the thoughtful criticism that each adjudicator provided, telling them how they could do better. Every child there, no matter how polished their performance (or otherwise), learned two things from the criticism. The first was where they could improve, the second (and more lasting life lesson), was how to accept being told that you weren’t perfect, in public, no less. If seven year olds can accept criticism gracefully, I don’t understand how elected officials can feel that the best response is to argue with and try to intimidate an organization that shares our goal of having a healthy, economically viable community, an organization that had followed our process, a long-standing, well-respected organization that represents the business community of the city.
The carefully scripted and rehearsed performances by a couple of council members, complete with props, gestures, and typed and highlighted notes, missed the entire point of the Chamber’s presentation – no matter how many planning documents we may have on our shelves, the city’s strategic plan for growth does not address many critical issues, and we are missing out on opportunities for growth that other communities in the province are preparing for.
How unfortunate that the time and effort some council members spent rehearsing their performances wasn’t spent on trying to work with the Chamber on how we can improve our strategic planning. But then, with this council, it doesn’t seem to be about what gets done - it's all about image.
"One person can make a difference, and every person must try." - John F. Kennedy