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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Citizens for Livable Cranbrook Society create defining moment for city

The Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society has created a defining moment in the history of this small city in the southeastern corner of British Columbia as citizens now prepare to vote in a referendum on a boundary expansion proposal supported by Mayor Scott Manjak and the majority of the council.

City council decided on September 14 to hold a referendum after its effort to gain approval for the boundary expansion using an alternative approval process, supported by first term Mayor Scott Manjak and the majority of council went down to a resounding defeat when the grassroots group obtained more than 3000 signatures opposing the council's action. The group received more than twice as many as the 1475 required to halt the council decision. The referendum is scheduled for November 14, 2009.


Manjak and Councillors Denise Pallesen, Liz Schatschneider, Angus Davis, Jim Wavrecan and Diana J. Scott, who voted for the AAP totally misread the citizens they represent, but upon reflection, it may have been a good thing for Cranbrook in the long term as citizens pro and con the boundary expansion are now energized and involved in the local political scene. This mayor and council were elected almost a year ago by about 30% of the eligible voters who turned out on election day. Councillor Bob Whetham opposed the AAP.

There can be little doubt that no matter the referendum result, the next municipal election campaign, although just over two years from now, will be already underway, and a major issue will be the type of community the citizens want, and the people they want to lead it. The defining moment for Cranbrook will continue for some time, and that's good.

The lines are now being drawn as the boundary expansion campaigns get underway with a "yes vote" group of "concerned citizens" setting up a campaign office, hiring a campaign manager, launching a web site, running a full page ad in local newspapers, handing out yes buttons and holding a "catered lunch" to launch its campaign. That's in the first week. A co-chair of the group is Brian Sims, who announced that he has taken a leave of absence from his duties as president of the Cranbrook Chamber of Commerce to be involved.

If I owned the land in question, I would be absolutely delighted to have a group of "concerned" citizens launching such an aggressive campaign really on my behalf. And I am sure everyone would love to have a city council that spends taxpayer dollars on advertisements urging the people it represents, even those opposed to its decision, to vote yes in the referendum, do the same for their pet projects. After all, the whole boundary expansion issue has arisen as result of an application from companies that own the land.

Had the Citizens for a Livable Cranbrook Society not opposed the AAP, the mayor in one of his advertisements would not have offered to remove submitted forms from those who changed their minds, I would never have become interested in the issue. Obviously British Columbia law is not clear on this one, and it should be and that is matter for the legislature.

At the council meeting of September 14, speaking in favour of a motion to proceed to a referendum, Manjak referred to the local chamber of commerce as "our community partner", which represented the community's "business leaders." I have nothing against a chamber of commerce, but I am concerned about a mayor referring to it as a "partner" in effect giving it special status. As a result I visited the local chamber's web site and discovered that the city's chief administrative officer is a member of an "advisory" group to the board of directors and attends its meetings. Councillors Schatschneider and Pallesen are also listed there although the latter is noted as representing "DBA" which is the Downtown Business Association.

Apparently the chamber is supporting the council's boundary expansion decision, but according to a recent letter in the Cranbrook Daily Townsman, all members are not happy with that decision.

I would respectfully suggest to the mayor and council that it move to strictly an arm's length relationship with the chamber of commerce, as they really only have one partner. It is the citizens of Cranbrook that elected them to office, not any organization within the city that may or may not always have the same interests as a council must have in serving all the people.

Had the grassroots group not taken action, I would not have been looking around. I received an email from a reporter this past week who had been reading my blog, and it said in part that my "journalistic juices" must be flowing. Indeed they are.

Most importantly though, I hope the citizens of Cranbrook will stay energized at this defining moment in the life of their community.

6 comments:

Cheryl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cheryl said...

Last comment was not too coherent - trying again! I truly believe that our laws (is this the Local Gov't Act in this case?) should require that before any major vote, citizens should have access to any information or reports that would help them make an informed decision - in this case the Growth Management Study comes to mind. To spend so much money and make such a large decision without this input seems true folly and to make it unavailable to citizens who want to make an informed decision (and without other options on the table!!) this is also distressing. This is a long term decision so should be taken slowly, thoughtfully and with all information AND options on the table. Cheryl

Michael J said...

Good point Cheryl. Thanks for commenting.

mjm

Larry said...

I have been reading your comments on this most important issue and greatly appreciate the thought provoking perspective that you are able to bring to it. Articulating good questions is an outstanding contribution to a cornerstone of effective democracy. I look forward to your continued involvement!

I hope someone looks carefully into the issue of what authority the mayor has to spend public money on advertising.

Larry Schafer
Cranbrook Resident

Larry said...

Michael - I have been troubled by the whole approach of the Mayor in promoting his view of the boundary expansion issue, and let me tell you why.

A number of years ago, I was the Chairperson for the Cranbrook Public Library. My tenure included the time when a public reference was decided upon by the then mayor (Ross Priest) on the issue of whether to proceed with the establishment of a very badly needed new public library. I can remember most distinctly sitting in the mayor's office with my co-chairperson to discuss with the then mayor what the city was going to do in order to support a "yes vote" campaign for a new facility. To my and my co-chair's utter amazement, Mayor Priest said that it was simply not appropriate for the City Council to be directly involved in "taking sides", although he was "personally" in favor of a new facility. And this when the mayor and, I believe, every single member of the then elected council had stated in their pre-election positions that they favored a new library! So we (the trustees of the library) were left on our own to organize a yes campaign. Not a penny in funding assistance from the City, not a word in organized assistance.

I think it is not unfair to say that Mayor Priest was the mentor to our present mayor, at least from a political perspective. I shook my head in disbelief and wonder at Mayor Priest's position, and I do the same now with his protege.

Michael J said...

Larry and others:

The way that taxpayer dollars are being spent on advertising during the debate over the boundary expansion bothers me immensely, and while I doubt it is illegal under any act in BC governing municipal expenditures by a council, it is to me at least, an improper use of taxpayer funds.

I was in municipal politics for years and have covered local government as a reporter and NEVER have I seen such an action by a council.

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
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