Talk­to­ber just more hot air

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - — Ed­i­tor-in-chief Neil God­bout

Talk­to­ber was an interestin­g, com­mend­able idea when it first sur­faced in 2015. Prince Ge­orge city coun­cil fanned out to hold neigh­bour­hood meet­ings dur­ing the month of Oc­to­ber (get it – Talk­to­ber?) where they would dis­cuss ma­jor city pro­jects and answer ques­tions from residents.

Four years later, Talk­to­ber has now been whit­tled down to just two nights and both at the Civic Cen­tre, see­ing as the jour­ney out to the Hart (known in the Bowl as “South Macken­zie” and known in Col­lege Heights as “that hor­ri­ble red­neck hive that has a li­brary branch and a skate park but we don’t”) is just so far away.

This year’s Talk­to­ber goes next Tues­day and Wed­nes­day. Staff will be on hand from noon to 8 p.m. and pre­sen­ta­tions will be held at 12:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on both days.

Af­ter each pre­sen­ta­tion, Mayor Lyn Hall will lead a ques­tion and answer ses­sion.

The mayor’s quote pro­vided in the press re­lease shows what he wants to talk about.

“Talk­to­ber be­gan in 2015 as a way for coun­cil to re­con­nect with residents,” Hall said. “This year will be no dif­fer­ent, but be­cause in­fra­struc­ture rein­vest­ment is such an im­por­tant is­sue, and be­cause Prince Ge­orge’s pop­u­la­tion ap­pears to be con­tin­u­ing to grow and in-fact could be near­ing an all-time high, Talk­to­ber 2019 will fea­ture in­for­ma­tion about the state of our util­i­ties, roads, civic fa­cil­i­ties, and parks - all of the civic as­sets com­monly re­ferred to as ‘in­fra­struc­ture.’ They are a big part of what the City pro­vides to sup­port busi­nesses, recre­ation, cul­ture, and over­all qual­ity of life.” So he wants to talk about the good news. In other words, Talk­to­ber seems to have de­volved into lit­tle more than a mar­ket­ing ex­er­cise for the mayor, the rest of coun­cil and se­nior staff to tell the com­mu­nity what a great job it has been do­ing for local residents.

We should all be so grateful!

They are, af­ter all, do­ing the job we pay (and pay and pay) them to do. The least we could all do is show up to Talk­to­ber to thank them, right?

In case the pub­lic (or the news me­dia) get to ask mean­ing­ful ques­tions at Talk­to­ber once the dog and pony show of awe­some­ness is over, here are a few queries for city coun­cil and se­nior staff:

• How much was that cost over­run on the Wil­low Cale Bridge cross­ing at Hag­gith Creek? Was any­one at the city held ac­count­able for that over­run? Why did the city not pro­ceed with le­gal cost re­cov­ery ef­forts against the par­ties in­volved in the de­sign, de­liv­ery and/or con­struc­tion of the bridge?

• Why did city coun­cil dare local residents to de­feat by pe­ti­tion a $32-mil­lion om­nibus bor­row­ing bill of 11 in­fra­struc­ture pro­jects in­stead of just putting the bor­row­ing plan on the elec­tion bal­lot last Oc­to­ber as a ref­er­en­dum ques­tion? Did city coun­cil and se­nior staff not know they needed to bor­row $32 mil­lion for this es­sen­tial spend­ing be­fore last Oc­to­ber?

• Speak­ing of last year’s elec­tion, what hap­pened to those cam­paign pledges by Hall and the other six in­cum­bent city coun­cil­lors – all of whom were re-elected – to re­view the city’s over­time pol­icy for se­nior staff?

You know the one where the city man­ager and her team – all of whom al­ready re­ceive two weeks of ex­tra hol­i­days each year in lieu of over­time – billed the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment at dou­ble their hourly rate for over­time dur­ing the 2017 Cari­boo wild­fire evac­u­a­tion cri­sis. Hall and the in­cum­bents all said more than once at more than one pub­lic fo­rum that they would re­view a pol­icy that al­lowed the city man­ager to bill the prov­ince $16,500.40 for 70 hours of over­time at a tidy $235.72 per hour. If the re­view hap­pened, the re­sults have yet to be shared pub­licly.

• Time per­mit­ting, there might be time for ques­tions about wages in­creases for the city man­ager and se­nior staff, all which have well exceeded the an­nual in­creases awarded to union­ized city staff for the past five years.

The city man­ager’s pay in­crease in 2018 was only 8.2 per cent and just 3.3 per cent the year be­fore. Per­haps we should ap­pre­ci­ate that mayor and coun­cil didn’t just hand over the 15 per cent pay raise an out­side con­sul­tant rec­om­mended for the city man­ager.

So many other interestin­g things to talk about than just the suc­cesses that should come when well-com­pen­sated in­di­vid­u­als do their jobs.

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