Local Economic Development-Politicians Feeding Friendsies
So..local elections come up mid November. Around here incumbents are belatedly drumming up projects to make it look as if they have a capacity to sustain or improve things in our communities that they have scantily demonstrated during their nearly-completed three-year-long terms of office.
The economy is said to be struggling in our neck of the woods; although it has got to be said that you don’t see a whole lot of superannuated rust-buckets being driven around or in supermarket parking lots that frequently fill to capacity.
The have-been and wish-to-continue-being pols would like us to believe that they can find home-grown answers to global problems in the form of a local Economic Development function. The Chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional Board announces that as a first step regional staff will assess why local government economic development initiatives in our province have a thirty-year history of failure: Stepping on his own laces right out of the starting blocks.
Which I highlighted in a letter to the editor of a sort-of-newspaper we have here called ‘The Local’. I’d often found it’s letter-to-the-editor pages more substantial and respectful of contributors than those of the larger and more usual kind of newspaper we have here, called the ‘Reporter.’
The SCRD Chair, who fears (I repeatedly hear) that I might put my name up against his in November, was moved to kick off a preemptive counter-campaign in response to my letter, associating my previous time in office with a failed local economic development in our neck of the woods that flopped well before my six-year kick at the can. For good measure he went on to associate me with recreation facility cost estimates that the current Board chose to exceed.
Of course, even if the estimates were low, the Chair has no idea whether I voted to approve them or not; Directors’ ayes or nays are not recorded unless specifically requested . But maybe they were realistic and the current board merely profligate. The real question is: What were they doing exceeding approved amounts without telling us so and explaining why and how they can legally do it.
Ironically while the Chair is raising this as an issue, a new climbing wall is being built at the Sechelt Aquatic Centre. It’s going to require a dedicated staff-person to monitor the one kid at a time that gets to use it. This is, so the scuttlebut goes, the Chair’s special project, being put up because it was in the plans approved in the referendum. Of course, so was the ceiling on costs.
While it and the new community center in Gibsons were democratically approved by referendum, it doesn’t alter the fact that they generated a big increase in property taxes. And we are due for another for our contribution to much needed hospital expansion now underway.
Leaving a few shekels in people’s pockets might have a better effect on the local economy than adding to a property-tax levy grown exponentially over the past few years with new bureaucracy operating in an area in which local government has proven overwhelmingly ineffective.
While this is going on at the regional level, the mayor of Sechelt announces a mayors’ task force, headed presumably by himself and the only other mayor in the region. He will, he says, form a “non-partisan working group,” then proceeds to appointment the chair of the local Chamber of Commerce to head it. The mayor, unsurprisingly, is a graduate of this little cabal of grumblers, one not held in particularly high regard by effective local entrepreneurs, even if, as a sop to inter-business-accord, they might pay their pittance into the dues pot.
The Cof C guy jumps immediately into the letter-to-the-editor fray and, presumably in an effort to appear educated beyond the bounds of our little spot on the planet, cites a future anticipated stabilization of world population growth as justification for the proposed local-government economic initiative. A hell of a reach and inaccurate to boot since it is the rate of population growth that is projected to diminish, not population itself.
While he was at it he tossed out a low-ball, off-the-cuff estimate of the cost of a local government economic initiative that demonstrated no understanding of the vast range in the cost of property-tax to residents or a realistic sense of how, once created, bureaucracy tends to grow.
The Local, which used to provide a pretty lively forum for local discourse, has just been bought out by publishers seemingly inclined to morph it into a feel-good sheet. The editor seems reluctant to accommodate ongoing debate on this matter. Like The Reporter, being free to the public puts them in thrall to their advertisers quite likely reluctant to generate their ire. Certainly the Local’s allocation of column-inches on this issue suggests the predictable bias.
In fairness-they have just published a doozy by Rich Hutchings that, unfortunately is not posted on the publication’s website.
Left essentially to wrestle solo with the Chair’s misrepresentations, I write to the Regional Board, copying all directors, and ask that they hold the chair they elect responsible for them and require him to correct them in the same publication in which they appeared.
A little known but critical difference between Regional Boards and municipalities, one that provides a line of democratic responsibility to and from the electorate, is that regional chairs are elected by the Board’s directors and responsible to them. A healthy Board’s representatives do not cede leadership to a chair, but, ideally share it among themselves or acting in concert. The role of the chair then is to liase with staff to facilitate its carrying through on Board motions and to articulate Board actions to the public. Weak Boards have an unhealthy and legally unjustifiable inclination to allow their chairs to pose as equivalent to mayors.
Anticipating a cool reception to my letter, knowing how inappropriately collegial those perceiving themselves to be in authority can be, I show up at the meeting at which the letter is to be received…and ask to speak to it.
Good thing too, because from the mopish looks on the faces of most of the eight directors they would just as soon have received and filed it.
The vice chair, sitting in at my request for the Chair whose actions were under consideration, rather officiously allowed that, although I had not officially asked to be a delegate to the meeting, I might speak.
Confronted civilly but directly on the matter the Chair said blandly that he had no problem apologizing for his misrepresentations as to my actions and positions while in office and as to his further misrepresentation re the Board’s decision-making process and what can be implied from those decisions about the views of individual directors.
I had to press to get the acting chair to state that the chair would see that corrections on both matters were printed in the Local. She seemed to take umbrage at the request and flatly refused to countenance a time limit. Not one of the directors chose to put a formal motion on the matter, which would also record the admission of error and the apologies. No corrections have appeared in the ample time since the original exchanges took place in print. I did, however, obtain an audio copy of the proceedings. With no other record, I might need it if I were to take the matter to court.
I did consider it, but really, I wasn’t inclined to sue a Board on which I had served and at best see levied on it some kind of penalty that would have come out of the pockets of friends and neighbors, as would the SCRD’s legal costs and staff time. The directors themselves are personally insured against penalty. And I have more pleasant things to do with my time.
It has always been my opinion that the guy who represents my electoral district and who now Chairs the Board has, from the time he entered the local political ring, been a front man for a few wealthy citizens in the area who have an overdeveloped sense of their own entitlement. Among them, undoubtedly, are some I prevented, during my terms on the SCRD Board, from extending their waterfront holdings in the form of private marine ways across public beaches. They were quite pouty about it at the time.
Manipulating local politics may well be their way of attaining a kind of facsimile of the control they exercised in the business world. It is no secret that manipulation of the democratic system at all levels in this kind of way is the norm.
The irony is that while such folks think they have a special handle on what is ‘practical’ the effect of their tactics at the political level is to undermine democracy and generate inefficiency. Then of course the business types are loudest in complaining about it.
If you are still with me, perhaps by osmosis you will have picked up a little insight hitherto not available to you into the character or lack thereof of some of the current crop of local pols.
Those who choose to vote come November(always too few in number) might think about supporting new blood. (A message that cannot be to often repeated) After all, quite a few of the folks in office in our neck of the woods have been there too long. They are getting a little stale. Here on the Sunshine Coast good things have eventuated from a regular political housecleaning.
These are not difficult jobs to do effectively. Local government processes are not all that complex. Which is not to say that we don’t elect some who don’t do the necessary work to get a handle on them.
There is little to be lost in hiring fresh blood. And despite the grandiose language sometimes attached to them, elections are essentially hiring processes. And you never know, we might luck out with someone new in office who can analyze, debate, synthesize, and expeditiously make decisions and monitor them for effectiveness with a view to amending them if necessary and if possible, fearlessly. That’s what it’s all about.
If we’re really lucky we might get a few who don’t mistake the importance of the office for their own. And wouldn’t it be fine if some understood that they are there to serve not just the needs of an electorate but a democracy that we still send young men and women off to die ostensibly in defense of
And, just a thought: If you want “to thine own self be true so as not to be false to any other,” think about ‘standing’ for office, not ‘running.’