Charity should begin at home, but should not stay there. ~ Philip Brooks
You have not lived until you have done something for someone who can never repay you. ~ Anonymous
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There is unrest in our community this week. It’s actually been going on for a few weeks now. It’s been particularly hard on me, as I have friends on all sides of the debate that is cause for this unrest.
It all started the evening of September 8th. I was excited as I was invited to an unveiling of what I, and many others, thought would be a downtown revitalization plan. I thought of the possibilities. Maybe a convention centre, or perhaps they were going to discuss what to do with the old fire hall site, or that eyesore of a vacant lot where the old hotel once stood. I have to admit, I was a little surprised when we were told that it was a plan to replace the library, city hall, and the retail spaces, owned by the city with… a library, city hall, and retail spaces owned by the city.
Now to be fair, I was never led to believe it would be anything more. I made assumptions as I imagined what revitalizing something meant. I assumed there would be added value or assets and services made available to the citizens that will ultimately end up footing the bill. Looking around at the faces of others in attendance, I knew I was not alone.
Once I got over my disappointment, I looked at the presentation differently. The library we have now, although only eleven years old, was too small the day they opened it. So an expanded library seemed reasonable to me. I always wondered why they didn’t add a second floor when they originally built it as the very high ceilings seemed like such a waste. Expanded City Hall? Well… there’s probably a lot more staff working there than when they first moved in twelve years ago. That, too, seemed reasonable. It was always assumed that, as the city grew, retail tenants would move out of the square and city staff would move in.
So, why the civil unrest? Why do I see well-respected folks, that usually work together towards the common good, suddenly at odds? The short answer is ‘Sticker Shock’. You could see eyebrows raise as the 83 million dollar price tag was revealed. That was just for above ground construction. The end total was later revealed at the September 19th council meeting to be 165 million dollars. Tempers flared and respectful debate gave way to insinuation, mistrust, and animosity.
Now, I am neither for, nor against, this proposed project. But I am for transparency and public input on large decisions that affect the community as a whole. This is where city hall blew it. There was no public input or consultation throughout the two years they’ve been putting this together. Therefore, the perception is that it was being hidden from us. I don’t personally subscribe to that belief, as I know many of the folks that work at city hall and believe them to have our best interests at heart. But, unfortunately, many of my friends, colleagues, and neighbours, don’t agree and are not afraid to voice their displeasure loudly.
That takes me back to the council meeting of September 19th. Public debate is important. City hall should certainly be held accountable when they screw something up. But, as we air our differences, concerns, and displeasures, I think we need to put ourselves in check. If we want intelligent information, input, and debate, we must engage each other respectfully. I think some of us get so passionate in our advocacy that we sometimes forget that. There have already been hard feelings expressed by folks involved on all sides. This debate will eventually end. I’m hoping many friendships don’t end up as casualties because of it.
Like I said, I haven’t made up my mind as to the merits of this project. There just isn’t enough information available to the public yet for me to decide. I suspect there are many others like me. This is a community of wonderful passionate people. If we deal with this challenge respectfully, I know we will all come to a conclusion we can all be proud of.
Here’s one more thing we all need to keep in mind; people may share your view or concerns, they may applaud when you make a strong argument, but if you personally attack someone else’s character or reputation while making that same strong argument, I guarantee those same people who applaud you will never respect you.
I’ll see you all at the next council meeting on October 3rd at 6 pm, where we can all ask questions and state our concerns... respectfully.