It seems we were not the only ones to wonder at the meaning of the mayor’s closing remarks (at the Budget meeting of June 22). Here is David Daniel’s musings on Mr. Stead’s “characterization” of Wolfville.
THE BUDGET AND THE “CHARACTER” OF WOLFVILLE
At the end of the meeting at which Council approved the 2009-2010 budget, Mayor Stead, after commenting that the Council was “committed to saving money wherever we can” went on to state: “What we have expressed over and over again and the budget will reflect that, we are not prepared to see the character of the Town changed for reasons that in our opinion or estimation are not sufficiently good.” (My underlining.)
Sounds, at first, like a worthwhile clarion call.
But on second thought the Mayor’s comments raise a series of questions. What precisely is Wolfville’s “character” which the Mayor does not want to see changed? The Mayor in his statement refers to “we.” Has this “character” been discussed or voted upon by Council? Have Town residents been asked what they think their “character” is? And assuming the Town’s “character” is multifaceted, is one facet more important or needs more protection than another?
What might make up the “character” of Wolfville? Here are some suggestions.**
WOLFVILLE RESIDENTS VALUE “CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT” AND “EMPOWER[ING] PEOPLE AND FOSTER[ING] PARTICIPATION. Municipal Planning Strategy at pages 5 and 81.
But during the past year, the Mayor, given his power to preside over meetings (Municipal Government Act sec. 15(1)), has unilaterally all but eliminated public participation at public meetings except where required by statute. During the budget process nine public meetings were held at which the budget was discussed. The public was permitted to provide “input” at only one, and citizens were not permitted to ask any questions at any of the meetings.
CULTURE (MUSIC, THEATRE, ART, ETC.) IS INTEGRAL TO LIFE IN WOLFVILLE
But I know a lifelong resident who has voiced the view: I am interested in having the streets and sidewalks properly maintained and kept clean, and only after core services are provided should the Town contribute to cultural events. Others have voiced a similar view. Is the level of funding for cultural events to be based on the Mayor or Councilors’ insight into the the “character” of the Town?
THE TOWN IS INNOVATIVE AND AT THE FOREFRONT OF SOCIAL ISSUES
Efforts to ban the use of pesticides in the town may have been initiated by a group of town residents but the Town’s bylaw to prohibit smoking in cars with children was not, to my knowledge. Some residents supported Wolfville becoming a Fair Trade town and the ban on uranium mining and the use of cosmetic pesticides. Should the willingness of Council to spend money and expend staff time to further these causes be dependent upon the perceived “character” of the Town or should legitimate arguments for or against be decisive? There are legal arguments that a town has no power to ban pesticides under the MGA sec.171(1)(j). Should this legal argument be cast aside because such a ban is consistent with the Town’s character?
THE TOWN SUPPORTS SOCIAL PROGRAMS SUCH AS FOR HEALTH AND EDUCATION
The Mayor claimed that some of comments made in opposition to the funding of the hospice were “uneducated; they are inappropriate and they are not fair. . .” But there are valid arguments for and against such funding. Councilor Laceby proposed two alternatives to direct town funding: (1) the Town could assist the hospice foundation with fundraising in the Town which would permit residents who wished to contribute to get a tax deduction, or (2) the town could set up some sort of matching grant system. Neither of these ideas was seriously considered.
Should the Town support the hospice with tax dollars because such support is consistent with the Town’s “character”? Is it part of the Town’s “character” to support health programs and not educational ones? Or should the decision be made on articulated reasons with public input.
When an official claims that decisions should be made to reflect the “character” of a place, beware. Such claims smack of hubris and assume that officials have privileged insight into what makes up the “character” of a place. Council decisions based upon perceived Town “character” are poor substitutes for decisions based upon the give and take of public debate, cost benefit analysis and/or whether the decisions promote articulated Town priorities.
David A. Daniels
July 2, 2009
** I’ll limit my proposals to those characteristics which Town Council might impact by its actions. So, for example, the Town may be characterized by friendliness and tolerance. But these character traits cannot be directly influenced by Council actions.