As it appeared in the latest issue of the MCN and sent to us to post, an article by citizen Becker. At least here it won’t go into the trash.
The Public Participation Hypocrisy
Lutz E. Becker
On May 05, 2010 a workshop was scheduled at Town Hall to discuss the very first draft of the Town’s Public Engagement Framework. The start time for this work-shop was 10:00 in the morning which excluded – deliberately or not – working Wolfville residents. At least six residents could manage to attend. With this in mind I regard the logo slogan on the cover page of the draft reading “Working Together” pure hypocrisy.
The Letter from the Mayor on page 1 of the draft and some of Stead’s statements there made me want to reach for a bucket again. During the work-shop one of the attending residents quoted this letter “bizarre”.
It should be referenced again that it was the unprofessional and undemocratic attitude of Mayor Stead which worsened, limited and finally eliminated the “Question Period” during public Council sessions. During recent Council meetings there has been no “Question Period” to be found on the Agenda whatsoever.
This obvious problem of an elected member of our Town Government was then topped by CAO Brideau, who – without being asked or authorized by any Councillor – took it upon himself to criticize loudly the “smirking” of a resident in the audience. Maybe, he should read and try to understand the Charter Rights.
To me it has the air of vacuity and farce in relation to the Town’s established Core Principle of Transparency and Participatory Government to learn that these two Town officials were key and influencial members of the working group producing the Public Engagement Framework. The group members consisted of Stead, Brideau, three members of Brideau’s staff, the two consultants hired by Brideau, Councillor Mangle and finally two citizens to “balance” the Brideau/Stead clan of eight. I am sure the reader will get the picture and a feeling for the relevance of the Framework to Wolfville residents’ information needs.
Furthermore, it is beyond my comprehension to see a first draft being printed with expensive coloured parts and especially with a coloured and self-promoting photo of Stead tainting the new document right from the beginning. This Administration under Stead and Brideau seem to have no idea on how to save tax-payers’ money but a good understanding on how to “blow” it.
Present during the discussions were the two consultants only and one staff member. Stead, Brideau, Mangle, the additional two staff members and the two residents were obviously busy on more important tasks somewhere else or had no interest to “listen” to questions and suggestions for improvement of the six demanding citizens. The two hired consultants had to take the brunt and all the negative comments which were mainly directed towards Stead and his past perception of public engagement.
I was very impressed and expressed my respect to Councillor Laceby, who had volunteered with his presence. He was the only Council member who bothered to attend this meeting and the discussions about one of the Town’s five core principles of government. His input, comments and explanations helped a lot to balance the negative emotions and allowed the work-shop to be conducted at least in part as intended.
Of course and as a general comment, everything in the draft is much better than nothing as before, which was superimposed on interested residents in the audience by Stead and/or Brideau.
To me this draft shows too many excuses and diversions from real public participation and provides the Town and respectively Brideau with too much decision-making power on what the public needs to know. But it can be regarded as a starting point in the right direction.
To keep this article short I shall restrain myself to my three most important points of constructive (building) criticism:
1. I do not want to see the colour-printed Mayor’s Letter anymore. This letter should be called Community Letter or Council Letter with messages of interest to all Wolfville citizens and without the self-pleasing and self-promoting part of Stead.
2. The Town’s Budget Process as stated in the draft shows the possibilities of public input in November and then five months later in April of the following year when the Process is almost over. This is unacceptable.
3. The Question Period reads “Open public input and question session following Committee of Council meetings”. This proves again that the Town Administration has no real interest in public engagement and participation for CoC-meetings are held in the afternoon and will exclude the potential working population of Wolfville. In addition, the fact that the Question Period is supposed to be placed after the adjournment of CoC-meetings (intentionally?), it will show no questions and maybe answers in the minutes or any other documenting record. This is unacceptable as well.
I cannot see that this first draft will satisfy the information needs of Wolfville residents and will follow the intentions of the Town’s established core principle of Transparency and Participatory Government.
Items by Mr. Daniels to follow in our next post.