Secret meetings, tired slogans and “alternative facts”
The Region of Queens Municipality snatched communications defeat from the jaws of victory on Wednesday.
Instead of seeming proactive for calling a meeting to address economic challenges in the downtown core, it looked arrogant and unaccountable for refusing to provide even basic details about the event to the public and local media.
Organized (if I can use that term) by the region, the meeting was held at the old town hall and hosted by the mayor and chief administrative officer. Curiously, the gathering was not mentioned at all by the municipality, which otherwise announces anything and everything.
Perhaps it was meant to be a secret. But there are no secrets in small towns, are there?
When I found out about the event a few days beforehand, I asked the region’s media relations representative about it. She told me, “(the) discussions are for business owners/ operators only, so they can speak openly about their concerns and ideas.”
I understand and accept this line of thinking. Open and frank discussion among business stakeholders might be just what the doctor ordered. (Although it appears not every downtown business actually received an invitation or was aware of the meeting.)
But why all the cloak-anddagger nonsense? Why dodge simple questions about the event when asked? Why turn a positive into a negative?
When I asked about the meeting’s agenda, the region offered what can only be described as “alternative facts.” I was told, “There is no agenda for the meeting. It is a discussion of ideas brought forth and an opportunity for the business community to have input into future plans for the downtown.”
Isn’t “a discussion of ideas brought forth” the exact same thing as an agenda?
The municipality refused to provide me with a copy of the invitation for the meeting, but I obtained one on my own. And guess what? It featured four points that would be discussed at the meeting. (Points for discussion. At a meeting. Sure sounds like an agenda to me).
Two of the four agenda items – sorry, two of the four “ideas brought forth” for discussion – dealt with the “Port of Privateers” slogan that has been used for many years with little tangible success.
The first asked, “Is there support to revitalize the Port of Privateers brand?” The second asked, “If so, how can your business participate in this?”
It’s as if the person who wrote these “ideas brought forth” hadn’t taken a walk downtown the last few years and noticed all the vacant storefronts and offices. It’s as if they hadn’t spoken to an actual businessperson to find out what challenges they’re facing and what opportunities may exist. In fact, it’s as if they have absolutely no idea what’s going on downtown and even less notion of how to fix it.
I can think of a lot of things our downtown needs: tax incentives to encourage growth, a comprehensive strategy to address the growing number of vacancies, zoning regulations that promote affordable and accessible housing units, a business mentorship program that helps guide young entrepreneurs and a loyalty program that rewards residents for shopping locally.
Revitalizing the privateers “brand” is so far off the radar of possible solutions, it’s not even a blip on the edge of the screen. So why would it be given top billing at Wednesday’s meeting?
Mayor David Dagley spoke often during the last election campaign about his desire to see the “Port of Privateers” concept play a larger role in marketing Queens County. (Full disclosure: I was also a candidate for mayor last election.) It would put us on the map, attract visitors and boost our economy, he said.
Don’t get me wrong, I find our privateering history fascinating and inspiring. It’s a story that should be told and celebrated and preserved for future generations. But when it comes to economic renewal or halting the rate of population loss in Queens, the “Port of Privateers” slogan isn’t worth the sign it’s painted on.
Not only that, the privateers theme is another example of the Liverpool-centric view of Queens County. How does this narrow, time-worn slogan do justice to all the other communities in our municipality? How is it an accurate and marketable representation of all the wonderful things we have to offer in Queens?
We can and must do much better on the downtown economy. Fortunately, we have people in place at the municipality who can help get the job done if their abilities are properly leveraged.
We also have a new council that is considerably stronger than the previous one. Several hardworking and capable councillors have returned and significant upgrades have been made in District 2 (Heather Kelly) and District 7 (Gil Johnson).
In fact, several councillors are doing excellent work behind the scenes to help revitalize the downtown economy.
This work isn’t being done in committees and it’s not recorded in official minutes. It’s being done by passionate elected officials who realize their best work is done in the community, not in the confines of 249 White Point Rd. or at secret meetings with misguided “ideas brought forth.”