Council spent all day Friday and most of Saturday in a strategic planning session. This meant two days of meeting with managers of the various departments, getting updates on their activities and plans, discussing various issues and ideas, and getting information about some ongoing problems.
It was a good opportunity to hear from everyone, without the restrictions that we have in a council meeting of having to follow procedures, make motions, call for votes, etc. Just listen, ask questions, and talk about possible solutions. And we weren't expected to show up in suits and ties, which also makes for a more relaxed session.
It probably would have been better if such a session had happened earlier, because right now the major focus is on the upcoming budget, which looks as though it's going to be a tough process, and it really wouldn't be fair to staff to expect them to cost out new initiatives when we're going to have to figure out how to deliver on current commitments without costing residents more than we have to. That didn't stop new initiatives being floated out for comment, but I think that we realize that spending for things that aren't necessities isn't going to be acceptable.
I would have found a council retreat to be even more beneficial. What's the difference? A retreat is more of an opportunity for members of council to share ideas, without being restricted to a preset agenda that deals with each department in turn. My preference would have been to have a council retreat shortly after the election, followed by a strategic planning session. I like to do the big picture thinking first, then get into the more specific details later.
On the whole, it was a good couple of days. There were still questions cut short, because they were in areas where solutions are difficult. To my mind, that doesn't mean that we don't ask the questions - we ask them, and try to figure out the solutions. And if there isn't a readily available solution out there, that shouldn't stop us from developing our own by-laws - we have that ability, but seem to be reluctant to use it. One area that I will continue to press for finding a solution is that of boarded up houses - they are a blight in any neighbourhood where they occur, reduce property values, and are a fire hazard, which costs the whole city. Fortunately, I'm not alone in my concerns in this area, so the topic is sure to be raised until we figure out some options.
On another topic, I thought that I would provide a couple of comments on Mr. Simonite's comment on my last blog. While we obviously have different opinions and interpretations, which I'm not going to get into, and I feel that it's unlikely that he might agree with any explanations that I provide, he did wonder where I got the idea that he or his family wanted to drive the bar in question out of business. I wasn't quoting him or any member of his family; I was quoting another resident from an article in the local paper, who said "We're hoping that someday, Belly Up will go belly up." To me, that sounds like they wish that it would go out of business.
The other point that I will respond to is his allegation that I always vote against the mayor and Councillor Dionne for personal reasons. This is not true. While I agree that I often disagree with other members of council, and we have diametrically opposed viewpoints at times, I have never been one to check the front of the room to see how I should vote, whether for or against. I vote based on my interpretation of the facts, and what I think is the best option for the city. I respect that other members of council may have differing ideas on the same topic, but I wasn't elected just to go along. And interestingly, in the last contentious issue that came to council, the approval of a duplex in the West Hill, the mayor and I voted the same way.
I also don't vote based on how other people think I should vote, whether they are council members or members of the public. To do so would be to cave to peer pressure, in effect, which isn't why I was elected. I can appreciate that there are usually two (or more) sides to any argument; my job is to make the best decision that I can, which is all that any of us can do.
And finally, the Animal Rescue Site has another opportunity to vote for the Prince Albert SPCA, to see if it can get some funding through Petfinder. Just go to http://www.theanimalrescuesite.com/, and follow the prompts. When last I checked, we were in 67th place in Canada; I'm confident that we can do better, and wouldn't it be great if we made it to the top!
"You can't base your life on other people's expectations." - Stevie Wonder