Here is a contribution from David Daniels which we post at his request.We have added a link to one of the documents mentioned in his article.
At the January 5th Committee of Council meeting Gwen Phillips and Charlie Fraser representing the Valley Health Revitalization Campaign (“VHRC”) made a presentation concerning the redevelopment of the Valley Regional Hospital and the construction of a stand alone hospice to be linked to the hospital. They asked the Town taxpayers to contribute $114,533.00 towards the projects.
(For more details on the projects go to the VHRC’s powerpoint presentation on the Town’s website, at the Town Calendar, January 5 Committee of Council meeting or Wendy Elliott’s January article in NovaNewsNow.com.)
After the presentation, the Councilors asked many questions about the hospital redevelopment and hospice.
When the Councilors had finished asking their questions I asked the following: whether I could ask questions of the VHRC representatives now? And if not, would there be someone from the VHRC who could answer questions at the budget meeting when their request was considered by Council?
In response, I recall, Mr. Fraser said that residents’ questions should be posed through the Council. (I listened to a recording of the meeting but unfortunately Mr. Fraser’s answer was not recorded.)
The Mayor then stated that there were to be no questions from the gallery because it was a large gallery and “we have another presentation and quite a large agenda. “
He then continued: “If there are questions specific to the proposal that has been made to us that they not be directed to Council. We are not the people who are taking this on as ours. If there are matters that deal with this issue as it involves our operational budget then those would appropriately come to our table.”
“If you [referring to me] have ten questions which you very often do, and if they are very specific about the project then you ought to make arrangements to meet with someone who is part of the drive.”
Afterward, several individuals involved in the campaign who were in the audience told me that they would be happy to answer any questions I might have. And I have already asked Mary Jennings of the VHRC one question seeking clarification on the presentation.
Putting aside the Mayor’s inaccurate, unnecessary and uncivil “ten questions” comment, his decision to disallow public inquiry is contrary to Council’s past practice. More importantly, the Mayor’s position on questions from the public makes for questionable governance and may do a disservice to the VHRC.
On July 3, 2007, at a Committee of Council meeting, two representatives from Acadia University made a presentation to Council seeking $60,000.00 over four years to help pay for the new field. I recall that questions from the gallery were permitted. (The minutes of the meeting indicate several questions were asked by unidentified individuals and specific Councilors are identified as asking questions.)
At the May 5, 2008 Committee of Council meeting, a presentation was made by two members of the School Playground Improvement Committee. The Committee was seeking $32,000.00 from the Town. Questions and comments were permitted from the gallery.
Let me be clear. I don’t object because I wasn’t permitted to ask questions on the night of the presentation. The agenda was full and the meeting was long. What I do not understand and what I object to is the Mayor’s decision that any question I might have be addressed to VHRC representatives outside of a public forum.
Does the Mayor think questions from members of the public (whose tax dollars will pay for the proposal if approved) would be of no interest to other residents or to the Council members?
For example, will residents who live in those communities which have contributed to the construction of the hospice be given priority over residents of non-contributing communities? The issue of capacity was never fully addressed. Will an eight bedroom hospice be sufficient to serve the needs of Kings and Annapolis Counties, especially in light of the aging population?
One would think that the Mayor and Councilors would welcome residents’ questions. After all, one of the Guiding Principles of the Town states: “Transparent and Participatory Government – The communication process will be open, efficient and accountable to the citizens of Wolfville and strive to involve them in their local government.” (My emphasis.) And the first object listed in the 2007 Vision for Wolfville is: “An inclusive community based on social equity and guided by citizen engagement through ongoing public consultation.” (My emphasis.)
What will happen if at the public hearing on the budget issues are raised, questions are posed concerning the hospice and hospital redevelopment, and they remain unanswered? Would it be wise for the Council to proceed with insufficient information? $114,533.00, even spread out over 5 years, is a lot of money.
While the Mayor may be given the power to preside over meetings, the decision to exclude public inquiry goes to the very heart of governance and should be made by the Council.
I hope that residents will be given an opportunity to ask questions to VHRC representatives about these two vital health services projects in a public forum.
David A. Daniels
February 4, 2009