I have watched Council meetings regularly and have been paying particular attention, with guarded expectations, since the new Council was elected in October 2016. My observations have led me to become slowly disenchanted with the new Council's actions and their approach to “leading” and managing the City! Many times, I have attempted to communicate with Mayor Tolmie and councillors, but often e-mails and letters just disappeared into the “ether” of City Hall with no responses! It seems Tolmie is too busy for us lowly taxpayers and most Councillors don’t tackle voter issue(s), except Councillor Swanson.
This perspective was made more poignant watching ongoing activities at Council meetings, so I feel it is important to highlight some issues that have caught my attention over the years. These have been addressed to Mayor Tolmie and Councillors with little to no useful empathetic replies!
- The Recycling budget and the associated “extra” charges being used by administration is ridiculous! As implied by Councillor Swanson, there is currently NO justification given or approved for taxpayers to be charged fees over and above the Recycling Contract cost! In addition, the Provincial Recycling grant should be used for its intended purpose of “reducing taxpayer” recycling costs! As far as I can tell the use of the Grant for other purposes was never approved by Council, and should be stopped!
- It’s nice to see CTC (Canadian Tire Corporation) making investments into the Moose Jaw economy with the purchase of new property! However, I never heard of anyone purchasing land and having a “veto” over the types of businesses that can be build on the adjacent land! To me this is ridiculous and there is no logical justification for this exception! If CTC wanted exception on the other adjacent land, they should have purchased that property!!
- During the City Budget briefing City Finance implied — by graph — that some of our current fiscal problems/shortfalls have come as a consequence of a few “past year” when we had low Property Tax increases thus leading to current revenue shortfalls. I find this to be very misleading and persistently annoying since they raise this point every year! To show an “honest” clear picture of the City revenue situation he should show a graph of City Spending versus revenues, and not just property taxes! This would clearly demonstrate that over the last numerous budgets City total revenues have grown SIGNIFICANTLY and far outpaced inflation! Moose Jaw City Hall doesn’t have and never has had a revenue problem they have a SPENDING problem!!
- I’ve said this before, but I’ll keep saying it; there are far too many “IN CAMERA MEETINGS” on issues that involve the use of Taxpayer money!! If there are sensitive items in the subject than “sanitise” the document and discussion so the public, at least, knows what is taking place with THEIR MONEY! Currently. It appears to me, that Councils justification to go in-camera is simply to avoid Taxpayer backlash or blindly following the lawyers advice rather than recognizing that as leaders it’s their decision alone!
- The Municipal Airport finally managed to get city money for expansion? This is justified by some Blue Sky; build it and they will come perspective supported by some “might and maybes” from a few local “big wigs” and businesses that want Taxpayers to pay for their activities! With 35 years of RCAF aviation background, and certified on many different types of aircraft I feel confident in saying that this was primarily an action by the local rich “hobby fliers” to get a better facility for their personal FUN! With the high quality, excellent services of the “Regina International Aerodrome” 40 minutes away and 15 Wing Aerodrome 10 minutes south, there are NO justifiable reasons for using Taxpayers money to upgrade the Moose Jaw Airport! If businesses and hobby fliers want a better Moose Jaw Airport than they should SPEND THEIR own money on the facility! AIRPORT upgrades – lighting, runways, taxiways, AMSE, approach aids, staff, etc. - to accommodate larger aircraft in all weather is an expensive proposition and Moose Jaw has many other, more important, and higher priority City uses for scarce taxpayer dollars!!
- The Mayor says he wants to focus on Economic Development as a Legacy during his term! To me, Economic Development should not be a “focus”, it should be the product of wise governance and fiscal prudence providing Taxpayers with high quality, cost efficient services! Sacrificing those principles to focus on “Economic Development” alone does nothing to promote the long-term health of the City! Like many Taxpayers I had great expectation for this new Council; hoping for better fiscal management, a focus on high-quality cost-efficient taxpayer services and a more transparent operating policy! However, so far it seems taxpayers are just getting “more of the same” with less transparency, and a lack of strong leadership from Council allowing the Unelected City administration to direct the show.
- The NEW Spring Creek Walking path bridge structure/ascetics and cost was changed significantly from what was originally approved; however, it never went back to Council! I addressed my concerns about the lack of APPROVAL for the change to the Mayor and initially he stated that he’d look into it and get back to me! However, even with additional e-mails I didn’t receive any follow-up reply from the Mayor! I did get a reply from his assistant stating that I should discuss the issue with the City Engineer. Consequently, I wrote a formal letter to the Mayor. In the letter I stated that this would be the fourth time that I had communicated with him regarding the subject and I had yet to receive an answer to my question! Plus, given the context of the question I did not accept that I should discuss it with the Engineer. To me this was neither an appropriate or legitimate administrative course of action! The question was: “I would appreciate an explanation as to how this project could “go ahead” at almost “twice” the original cost without a final approval from City Council”?
In my mind the Mayor and council are ELECTED as City Leaders; to be responsible and accountable to the voters and taxpayers for approval of all City expenditures! City Administration answers the Mayor and City Council. They are the “gate keepers” who should ensure that all construction, operational and administrative expenditures conducted by City Administration follow established approval procedures/processes; and that is what this question is about! Approval is clearly in Councils domain not with Engineering! Yet, the Mayor attempted to abrogate that responsibility! From my professional experience, referring this to administration (Engineering) was simply an evasive tactic to avoid answering the question! Given the delays and void of information one can only assume that the Bridge construction did not follow proper approval procedure! The Mayor often talks of a “positive legacy”; however, for that to happen he and most of Council should stop pandering to “City administration” and start demonstrating stronger leadership, less evasiveness, and more transparency! He has never answered my letter!
Some Councillors have replied on occasion, but they tend to simply spout the bureaucratic perspective that they’re fed by administration. To Councillor Warren’s credit he has replied often, but from my experience his perspective is no different than most other elected officials who tend to demonstrate shallow experience, poor logic/insight, and an unwillingness to accept citizens inputs on issues. As with the Mayor and most Councillors, changing their views seems to be a hopeless task; it’s as if once elected, they think they’ve become wiser, more experienced, and more fiscally responsible than the people paying the bills - taxpayers. The exception to this perspective is Councillor Swanson! I’ve found none of these traits hold true with this caring, and dedicated Councillor! He is personable, always professional, well prepared for meetings, very knowledgeable and logical, cautious and pragmatic about financial issues, helps out in the community and, most importantly, listens to taxpayers and empathises with their perspectives and needs!
Unfortunately for the most part, Council is a very discouraging group of elected officials that show little respect for taxpayers and ignoring the experience, knowledge, insight, and realistic views offered by Councillor Swanson while basically letting administration surreptitiously guide Council’s direction on City Management and spending!
Michael Dolan, HBsc.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.