Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bidding Adieu to Fred Best as Mayor of Clarenville

I first met Fred Best on my front lawn in during the 1997 Municipal Election campaign.  He was running for Mayor – again - against an up-and-comer municipal politician by the name of Frazer Russell.  Fred had the energy of a wild horse back then as he ambled from house to house meeting the residents with a passion and vigor that a mayor needs.  He’s a consummate politician and someone I admire for his dedication to Clarenville – not just since 1997 but since he entered Council in 1970’s.  He has been in those chambers ever since, 36 years serving as Mayor of Clarenville. 

It’s thanks to Fred that I ran for Council in 1995.  His call of encouragement was the push I needed to stand for election.      I know from my one term that it is is a great experience and privilege to serve but it is a never ending and sometimes thankless job where, as a general rule, you don’t make a lot of friends, you pee some people off, and all topics of conversation that you get involved in eventually turn to municipal politics and the problems of our community.  I asked him once how he dealt with this.  He told me something to the effect “don’t take it too seriously; you need to develop a thick skin”.   My skin did get thicker but the job of councillor does wear on you, and for someone to dedicate over 40 years to it as councillor and mayor, I feel is either a testament to his commitment or a measure of the thickness of his skin – I think Fred has both.

Fred has given so much of his life to this Town and he has contributed so much to Municipal government in this province. He's also bares a lot of credit for my interest in this Town - and this site!   I salute Fred and his family for that.        

It's Time to Pass the Torch

I would argue that the future belongs to the next generation and it is the current generation’s job to ensure that it that future is well taken care of for that next generation.  Part of the job of  a parent, a senior, or a long serving board/council member is ongoing mentoring and then letting go in a timely fashion.  The combination of common sense, passion, energy and a thick skin are all critical attributes to mentor to the next generation of politicians and Fred's success demonstrated these - once.  

Unfortunately, this past council term and a half, I felt that the Mayor had lost his passion for the job – and you need passion for that job.  This feeling was confirmed last week during an interview the mayor did with the CBC Central Morning show. He stated “It’s a decision (Retirement) that I have been thinking about for the last 5 or 6 years, in fact I had to change my mind 4 years ago because I had planned to retire then”   (Listen Here).   Lisa Browne was the kink in his retirement plans and it was sad to see her capabilities, her youth, her progressive ideas and progressive approach stymied, first on Council and then in a very bitter (and close) mayoral race. Evidently, Fred did not want the job of Mayor anymore in 2009, he ran because he did NOT want Lisa to have it.   

The long-time mayor stayed for the wrong reasons, and even though Clarenville has continued to grow at a rapid pace in the past 4 years, the lack of crisp leadership at the top to actively manage and influence that growth is really showing now more than ever – with some comparing this place to a giant gravel pit construction site.

It is no question that when Mayor Best moves into retirement in October he will leave a legacy.  But having stayed in the position as a 'reluctant' mayor at such a critical time in the town’s life with the ramp up of Hebron and the housing and retail developments that have come with it, has not been the best for this town.  Recognizing when to let go is critical - that would have made for a stronger legacy.   

Monday, June 17, 2013

Are We Not Fit For It? - Minister says No to Electronic Voting and No to a large % of the public for this Fall's Municipal Election

The average person here is such that we ought never to have had self-government; we are not fit for it."(St. John's businessman Eric Bowring in testimony to the Amulree Royal Commission 1933)
It's a good thing that the number of Communications people in government has grown extraordinarily in the past few years. Experience has shown time and time again, that Ministers of the government sometimes say the most inept things.  These Ministers really need someone holding their hand (mouth) to prevent "Open-Mouth Insert (swallow)-Foot" and to make them look good.

Obviously, such was not the case when the current Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Hon Kevin O'Brien suggested to Randy Simms in this month's edition of MNL's Municipal News - on the eve of the next round of municipal elections in September - that allowing too many uninformed voters to vote using a computer would be wrong.

“People who don’t know what’s going on,  voting for people they don’t know, is not appropriate,” he says. "It is better to have 30 percent of the community turn out who have a true interest in their town then to encourage a larger turn-out where the chance of an uninformed decision could win the day."  

That's the same exact logic that had NL give up self-government in the early 1930's in favour of a dictatorial Colonial rule.  We (the average person electorate) were considered by the power elite to be too stunned to know what was good for us - we were simply not fit for democracy.

Time and technology have moved on but unfortunately that kind of thinking is still very much in the present.  And most worrisome, the minister whose job it is to maintain the most fundamental, close to the people, municipal level of democratic government shares that thinking.

What is most grating to me is that Minister O'Brien has hung himself on fumbling two issues here:

First there is the issue of informed voting.  I agree with the minister to the extent that it is important that people make an informed vote, however arguing that uninformed people should not bother to vote is patronizing and is a slight to our democratic process. If he is and we are satisfied to see people stay away from the election booth (be it real or virtual) then we are failing the men an women who died and continue to die for that right.   Minister O'Brien should be encouraging people to get informed and get out to vote, He should not be giving them an excuse not to be "fit for it".

Second there is the issue of electronic voting. It is a concept that may encourage more people to vote by making the voting process more convenient.  In an age where we (informed or otherwise) can buy lottery tickets, renew licences, collect pogey and pay taxes online the minister feels we are not up to voting online.  The technology is readily available however the Minister and government has given it the thumbs down.

There are proven arguments that e-voting encourages more younger people to vote.  They would probably vote for more younger candidates - something that government says it wants & needs to see.  Their actions however send an opposite message.  They know more older people will vote using the conventional pooling booth system and they also know older people will be more comfortable voting for people of their own age.  We also know that older people in office will tend to favour the status quo - which could be a real political plus for a cash strapped  provincial government.  There will most certainly be fewer worries about rocking the boat and breaking the bank with a senior age-friendly policy!

I doubt very highly that the government will change its mind on e-voting, but I do think they need to change their attitude on voters and do it quickly.   Until they do, I for one will continue to take a very skeptical stance on their cry for younger people to step up and run for municipal councils.  Government knows that the old-guard enjoy the job enough to stay "if nobody else runs" and they also know that the old guard can be better managed than a bunch of new people with innovative ideas who will be asking for more, more often, possibly more effectively with their command of new technology such as social media.

I am willing to bet that there will still be a lot of gray hair around Council tables in October - and everyone who voted will be absolutely fine with that.  That's a shame.

Read the full story here:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Welcome to Clarenville Newcomers!! Let’s Find the Welcome Mat and Roll it out!

From: The Packet (  June 6, 2013

Perspective is everything.  Seeing I am not originally from Clarenville, I feel that I have a slightly different perspective on Clarenville than people who are born and bred here – a better appreciation for what it is to be an objective outsider looking in.   After 22 years residency and being pretty involved in the community, I do sometimes feel as if I am loosing that perspective.  This was brought home to me this week when I read Jayme Gough’s column in the Packet “A mini United Nations in Clarenville”.  In her piece she talks about the verity of people that she has met since she moved here – not so much locals but more so people who now live here from Greece, Italy, the United States and elsewhere in Canada – literally from all over the world!   

Jamie’s perspective was quite an eye-opener for me.  I suppose I knew that people had been moving in for projects like the GBS build in Bull Arm,  and I have met a couple – but I imagine that the average person in Clarenville, me included,  is not engaged with the newcomers.   That’s our loss.

The most obvious welcoming response I have seen is at Clarenville Inn where we see the Norwegian flag has joined the other flags in front of the hotel.  I have seen no evidence that the official Town is doing much to welcome anyone – we should and the Town of Clarenville should.   

It would be great to see community organizations reach out to newcomers and partner their member families with newcomer families.

I’d also like to suggest the Town add a FAQ (frequently asked questions) section to its website, develop a welcome package and host an international event during Clarenville Days – these are neither costly nor difficult asks and they could provide so much opportunity for community development. 

Of course too, I’d live to see newcomers LIKE out Our Town Clarenville Page on Facebook.    The idea for that page came out of the need for better communications – we’re trying to build on that.

With the Bull Arm site ramping up this summer to its maximum workforce of 3000, there is no time like the present to put our efforts into welcoming everyone from everywhere.  Combined, our efforts will roll out the Welcome Mat and with effort and luck, these newcomers will soon be feeling more like me – part of the community.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

The Hazards of Waste- Standing Behind our Fire Department

A community's Fire Department is called “The Fire Department” for a reason.   They fight fires and save our lives.

Our fire department is made up of 30 or so volunteers who came forward from our community to give up their time and energy to willingly put themselves in harm’s way to save us and our families in the event of a fire or emergency.

The did sign up for the fire rescue business; they did not sign up to be in the hazardous waste business.

In this past week’s Council meeting, a small but important tidbit was raised by Councillor Pickett regarding the Clarenville Fire Department’s / Town of Clarenville’s refusal to take part in this year’s reformatted 
Hazardous Waste Disposal Program.   (see this week’s PACKET "No Hazardous waste collection in Clarenville this year: Fire department chooses not to volunteer" May 29, p1 )

This year over 30 volunteer fire departments across the province will be hosting their own communities Hazardous Waste Day(s), in return for $1,000 by the government’s waste management board. Clarenville will not be one of them.  This service has traditionally be provided by a certified hazardous waste disposal company and the Town and government contributed to the expense of them coming and setting up in the community for the day.  (see PACKET Household hazardous waste collection focusing on smaller communities

Evidently that system was too costly so this year hazardous waste disposal has been downloaded on community volunteer fire departments.  That’s not what they signed up for, and evidently in Clarenville’s volunteer fire department, they did not feel that they have the proper capacity to deal with it.  Rightfully so, they rejected the offer.

It was argued that this was simply a communications problem – they did not understand.   But the misunderstanding went deeper than the fire department.  Council appeared unaware of the situation and unaware of the Fire department’s concerns.  Council should have known and they should have actively supported them in getting the right information and then supported whatever decision they made.

While it is true that we need an opportunity to dispose of hazardous waste, I want to see it done properly and I certainly don’t want to see it shirked off our volunteer fire department.   Government at the Provincial and Town level must ensure that if we are putting people in harm’s way that they know the risks, and the procedures to mediate that risk.  In this case it appears that this was not done.

Bravo to the Clarenville Fire Department for doing the right thing,