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Can Council’s diligence be overdue?

St. Marys Journal Argus editorial

In an interview with the Journal Argus in December, 2010, mere days before his official swearing-in as first-time Mayor of St. Marys, Steve Grose said “you can’t make promises you can’t keep. And you can’t make promises unless you know the facts.”

One year later, Grose was asked what he had learned during his first year in office. The biggest frustration, he explained, was the amount of time it can take — compared, he said, to his career experience in the private sector — for proposed initiatives to be marshalled through the approval of Town staff, subcommittees and advisory boards, Town Council, and the public.

We’re now at the midpoint of the current Council’s mandate — an appropriate time to reflect. And if you base that reflection predominantly on the issues which have placed Council in the public eye over the past two years, you might get the impression there’s often an unbridgeable divide between the “know the facts” and “let’s move faster” mentalities.

A new ball diamond; Cadzow Pool; the Pyramid Centre pool; the X-Park; Development Charges: all these topics inspired considerable public feedback.

The X-Park is a classic illustration of the facts/faster divide. Council gave the go-ahead to a volunteer group of citizens to propose a plan. When that plan was presented to them, councillors supported it — but with the dreaded “due diligence” attached. Fourteen months later, instead of working behind the scenes to marshall the citizen group’s plan through the various steps of approval, Council instead had ruffled the feathers of nearly half the town by proposing at least three alternate sites. To Council, “due diligence” meant gathering all the facts. To the public, “due diligence” translated instead into Council’s pie-in-the-sky ideal of finding a solution that magically pleased everyone.

But the trajectory of the X-Park decision(s) mirrored, in many ways, some of the other controversial topics. The pool questions stemmed from a report delivered by a Mayor-mandated, citizen-led Recreation Task Force. The Development Charges increase, meanwhile, stemmed from a report from a consultant hired by the Town. Both could have been implemented in keeping with the initial report, but instead Council decided to heed subsequent information and/or reports, and wait for alternate proposals to come forward.

In the case of the pools, we’re now back at square one: paying significantly to keep open three pools, to the considerable resentment of a group of townspeople who don’t swim. With Development Charges, a decision — distasteful to some — has been made, although councillors have regrettably pledged to have the topic take up more Council time at some point in the future.

To be fair, this Council has dealt comparatively quickly with two issues that inspired considerable public outcry: downtown parking and the Heritage Conservation District (HCD). In both cases, certain councillors voted against the final approval, and resentment lingered among some stakeholders. But when the final votes were tallied, those councillors were professional enough to accept the will of the majority, and appear not to have unreasonably harboured their own resentment.

It’s not the private sector. Things generally do take longer. But they can be moved forward. And this Council has shown it is capable of making them move forward.

For the next two years, however, they need to refrain from getting sidetracked by fears of public outcry and the dreaded “due diligence.”

(S.S.)

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