Friday, May 13, 2011
A series of meetings were held at Angus Ridge, Mulhurst Bay, Lakedell, and Alder Flats to seek support for a petition to force Wetaskiwin County to hold a recreational needs assessment before committing a second two million dollars toward the building of the regional aquatic centre in Wetaskiwin. Attendance at the meetings ranged from 12 to 22 with a total of about 70. Rick Southern, from Westerose in Division 5, addressed the meetings, elaborating upon the content of his power point presentation, part of which was based upon the March 25, 2010 “Straight Facts” Report by the County, part of which gives some indication of how he was conscripted to be the front man for opposition to additional funding for the recreation facility.
Both Southern’s presentation and the County’s information release, “Municipal Sustainability Initiative Grant Program Update,” published May 11 – 12, focus on the MSI grants which were initiated for the period 2007 to 2017, but which changes in the provincial government could alter. Because of possible changes in MSI funding, the County Strategic Plan for the MSI grants only extends to 2013 and is contingent upon receiving the continued grants. The use of MSI funds are basically limited to projects which have a long term impact such as capital projects. MSI funds can NOT be used for ongoing expenses such as operating budgets or salaries. I had considered looking at some of the broader finance issues raised at the meetings, but have realized that to do so would be nit-picking and ignoring the real issue.
Webster`s Canadian Dictionary and Thesaurus 2004 edition gives one definition of spin as, “an emphasis or slant imparted to information, proposals or policies.“ Facts and figures do not lie, but they can certainly be interpreted in a wide variety of ways, even in directly opposite ways. Spin is very difficult to report on, especially when my own bias is directly opposite to that of the presenter and his cohorts. That said, let’s consider how parts of the presentation reveal the real issue.
The fifth screen on the power point had two bullets reading:
*”On March 13, 2011, it came to my attention that County Council was going to vote on a resolution to give an additional 2 million dollars in MSI funding to the City of Wetaskiwin for the proposed aquatic centre.
”I contacted several county residents and community groups to advise them of this and no one had heard of this taking place.”
Southern said that he received a phone call telling him of the resolution and asking him to find a delegation to bring to the meeting which would vote upon the resolution. Who phoned him?
Of course no one knew of this taking place. People do not normally follow the actions of their duly elected council closely enough to be aware of this type of normal resolution.
The last screen of the power point had two bullets reading:
*”By being here today, it shows me that you are concerned about the spending and lack of public consultation that the County of Wetaskiwin has done and want them to stop the dealing behind closed doors.
*”It is a shame that we had to do this when in fact it is the County’s duty and responsibility to act in our best interest.”
The first bullet mentions three issues: spending, lack of consultation, and dealing behind closed doors. Without incurring debt and because it had its long range plans in place, the County of Wetaskiwin was able to take full advantage of the federal and provincial economic stimulus funds which became available during the economic downturn. Therefore, it has been able to complete ahead of schedule a number of the items which were in the long range plan. That is good governance and good financial management.
The normal ongoing consultation process is accomplished through direct individual contacts between the duly elected representatives and the interested parties in their divisions. There is no indication of actual lack in consultation.
All County of Wetaskiwin Council meetings are public meetings with all discussion held in public. The County has no private discussion meetings to prepare for the public meetings, as do some other councils and boards.
Finally, one may well ask what makes this group think that they have to do this, and why do they imply that the County is not acting in the best interest of the County as a whole. In my opinion, the majority of the County of Wetaskiwin Council is, indeed, acting in our best interest!
As can be seen,the real issue regards the principles of governance in a democracy. Is a democracy governed by the majority decisions of our duly elected representatives, or is it governed by a process of petitions and referendums instigated by an oppositional minority Before nomination papers had to be filed for the election last fall, the City and County of Wetaskiwin jointly held a presentation for prospective candidates. One of the points made about governance was this: when the majority of the members of a board or council have made a decision, IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF ALL MEMBERS OF THAT BOARD OR COUNCIL TO PULL TOGETHER AND SUPPORT THAT MAJORITY DECISION. If the oppositional members of the County of Wetaskiwin Council recognized and followed this fundamental principle, these meeting would never have been held, and a lot of time and effort would not have been wasted.