Vote for change

The following was emailed to us by resident David Daniels who has been monitoring Council workings for some time. We are always happy to consider residents’ opinions for posting here and we copy Mr. Daniel’s message below. [formatting may differ from the original but the words are all his]

NEW TOWN LEADERSHIP

David Daniels
October 5, 2008

As many of you know, I have taken a keen interest in the workings of our Town.  I have attended numerous Town Council meetings over the past three years, and I attended most of the meetings of the Sustainability Task Force (STF), Planning Advisory Committee (PAC)  and  the Town Council where the Municipal Planning Strategy (MPS) was being rewritten.

I hope that my comments below are helpful to you in your thinking about who we should ask to serve us in the next four years.

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New leadership is needed in Wolfville.  Town leaders have largely lost sight of their essential purpose: to lead and to serve the needs of Town residents.

In a democracy governing is a two-way street.  Leaders must engage and listen to citizens and at the same time have the ability to recognize and act on problems and take advantage of opportunities which may just be coming into view.  Leaders need not slavishly follow public opinion, but serious views put forward by the public should be seriously and openly considered.

Qualifications to lead include both intelligence and the knowledge that you don’t know everything, that you may not know what’s best.

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Town leaders have been poor stewards of Town finances.

Town leaders allowed the budgeting process to get beyond their control.  How else to explain the fact that the Management Committee, which did not include a single elected official, seemed to have set spending  priorities.

The Recreation Committee made upgrading the school playground a high priority, but the Management Committee made its own determination concerning priorities and did not include funds for the school playground in the proposed budget.  Maybe the Management Committee had good reasons for its decision.  But at a budget meeting it was startling to hear  that Councilors were unaware of the spending priorities had been set by the Recreation Committee.

During the budgetary process it also was revealed that the Council was not receiving quarterly updates on the budget status.

Simply stated, the Town leadership dropped the ball on its oversight of the budgetary process.

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In 2006, the population of Wolfville was 3772, an increase of slightly more than 3% from the population in 2001 of 3658.

For the year ending March 31, 2003, the annual town budget was $5,676,479.  The budget for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2008 was $6,964,732.

The increase was over 22%, or more than 4% per year.

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The MPS is the single most important document the Town Council approves. It establishes policies which are meant to guide town development and management for years to come.  What is included in the MPS will have a direct impact on Town residents.  A new MPS is written about once every eight to ten years.

The Town Council recently approved the new MPS by a vote of five to one.  Councilor Hugh Simpson was the sole vote against.  The MPS took three years to produce.

THE WRITING OF THE MPS WAS MISMANAGED.  It was allowed to go well over budget and took much longer than planned.  The proposed MPS does improve upon the present MPS.  But what improvements there are should not have taken three years and over $150,000.00 to produce.

Was it necessary or advisable for Mayor Stead, Deputy Mayor Wrye and Councilor Mangle to be members of the STF since they would be able to provide input as members of the PAC and Council?

The process of writing the new MPS could have led to a coming together of the residents to reach a shared future vision and arrive at innovative solutions to common and complex problems.  But rather than engage the public,  Town leaders managed to enrage a good portion of the townsfolk.

The shame of it is twofold.  An opportunity was lost to be innovative and comprehensive.  And the second pity is that the proposed MPS  fails to address real issues in concrete ways.  For example, how can the town attract young families? what are the implications of an aging and retired population? what might the impact of the twinning of 101 have on Wolfville? and what are the opportunities and challenges of having a giant commercial area in New Minas?

Who was in charge, and where is the accountability?

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Town leadership failed to deal with student noise and behaviour issues in a timely and comprehensive manner.  I can still remember a meeting I attended  last fall at which town residents gave heartfelt and troubling testimony to the problems they were having with student noise, broken glass, drinking and rowdiness.  Rather than deal with the issues in a timely manner, the Town began to take the problems seriously only after the matters got out of hand.

Why was the town so slow to respond?  At that time I suggested that the town increase the noise bylaw fines and make the fines graduated, so that with each subsequent offense the minimum fine increased (as is done in Halifax).  To my knowledge there was no follow up with my suggestion.  Now, a year later, when I again made the suggestion at a recent Town Council meeting, the staff was asked to look into the idea.

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Town leaders appear not to understand the importance of transparency in governing.  Information must flow freely and the reasons behind actions must be explained so all can understand.  How can residents monitor the actions of their elected representatives if they don’t know what’s going on?

Why didn’t the Town take the simple step of providing the library with copies of the proposed MPS?

In a letter from Mayor Stead to Roy Brideau, the Town Chief Administrative Officer, dated February 15, 2007, the Mayor states “[a]t an ‘in camera’ session as part of a Special Council meeting held on February 5, 2007, there was discussion on your compensation package.  Four decisions were reached based on a view of the next four years . . .”  The letter then goes on to list Mr. Brideau’s compensation for the next four years.

This letter raises a number of questions, but on the issue of transparency one is obvious:  why was there no record of this decision in the minutes of the February 5th Council meeting?

During the review of the MPS, it was suggested that the Town’s Planning Department produce a document setting forth the pros and cons on planning issues, such as increasing density, and the reasons for the Planning Department’s recommendations.  This would facilitate residents’ review of the proposed MPS; allow them to be more informed.

Not only was this suggestion not followed, but to add insult to injury, no substantive reasons were given why the suggestion should not be acted on.

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Please vote for CHANGE on October 18th.

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