EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Cranbrook growth management plan essential to citizen decision making

Let's assume for a moment that you are a shareholder in a publicly traded company that has been experiencing significant growth over the past few years. The former CEO went to the board of directors in early 2008 and recommended that it approve a growth management plan study to assist the company in making wise decisions for its long term future.

The board thought this was a good idea, and approved a $500,000 study in early 2008. The previous CEO told them that by starting the study early in 2008, the plan should be completed by the end of the year, or early 2009. His successor told the board it should be available by the summer of 2009.

Meanwhile, the company was presented with a huge opportunity to expand, and before it received the $500,000 plan it proceeded with plans to expand the company's operations under the new CEO.

Shareholders were irate when they heard the news that the company was planning a huge expansion before it received a plan for which they, in effect, had paid $500,000. They launched a campaign, and succeeded in obtaining enough proxy votes to call a special shareholders' meeting.

At the meeting the new CEO said the company planned to proceed with the expansion, and the growth management plan was not available.

The shareholders called for a vote, and the story ends with the ouster of the CEO and the board of directors.

Sound familiar?

Well, here in Cranbrook, British Columbia, first term Mayor Scott Manjak and a majority of the city council have approved a referendum set for November 14, 2009, which if approved will more than double the size of this small city in the southeast corner of the province. And it is proceeding with the referendum before a growth management plan has been made available to the citizens to assist them with their decision.

Doesn't make sense to me! Why would anyone approve a $500,000 expenditure to create a plan, which was done by the last council, and then proceed with a referendum without taking the plan's recommendations into consideration. An incredible waste of taxpayer dollars.

Manjak, who took office less than a year ago, and promised an open and transparent administration, told the Cranbrook Daily Townsman on January 22, 2009: "A growth management plan focusing on the East Hill boundary expansion should be ready by summer (of 2009)." Most recently he has said it will not be available before the referendum. Apparently it is undergoing some kind of "technical review" by city staff.

Nonsense! If it is undergoing some kind of review, that's a lame excuse not to make it available to the citizens of Cranbrook now. Tell the staff to make it a priority and get it done and make it available before the referendum. To do so would be in keeping with Manjak's promise to the people who elected him that he would run an open and transparent administration.

The minutes of the mayor's brown bag lunch session of August 18, 2009 quote him as saying the plan was being "vetted" by city staff. As I write it is September 25. The next regular council meeting is scheduled for October 5, 2009.

Manjak admits that the plan is focusing on the East Hill, the very area that voters are being asked to bring into the city limits.

Former mayor Ross Priest, commenting on the study while he was still in office, told the Townsman on January 23, 2008, that by starting in early February last year "the growth management study should be completed by the end of 2008, or very early in 2009."

The referendum is being held because a grassroots group here gave the mayor and majority of council a huge setback when it tried to use an alternative approval process to get the boundaries expanded. The group got over 3000 signatures on elector response forms to stop that move, getting more than double the 1475 signatures required.

Notwithstanding the referendum, and the campaign currently being waged pro and con, the whereabouts of the $500,000 growth management plan, and the real reasons for the stalling in releasing it to the citizens who paid for it, should be of great concern to all. I hope all of you will contact the mayor and councillors and insist it be released now.

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.

Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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