COLUMN: Priorities and consultants

What do taxpayers get for $4,500? In some municipalities, that money could buy 32 wooden picnic tables for parks, or a couple of meters of new sidewalk. It could buy several signs highlighting some area of significance, or the beautification of an area with new flowers. In Cornwall, it gets a consultant, a report, and councillors putting dots on the wall. That was the priority of Cornwall city council on Wednesday, a meeting at the OPG visitor center, a consultant, and putting colourful dots on priorities. Who came up with this idea?

To be fair, the consultant was from St. Lawrence College, which has a campus in Cornwall. The OPG visitor center is in Cornwall and open so infrequently that it is good someone had the chance to visit it. The office supplies may have come from Staples, so that $4,500 did stay in the community. Did council have to spend this much money on this exercise?

What proponents have stated was that this was a neutral ground, away from the council chamber, where they [councillors] could talk and have city staff weigh in. Municipalities already have that framework in place with the “committee of the whole”. This body operates on committee rules, rather than the procedures of an actual council meeting. Councillors and staff can talk in the open, without the formality of a council meeting. If the council and staff wanted a more neutral location than the council chambers, they could have gone to any of the city-owned buildings and had their meeting there. Or even sat at the band shell at Lamoureux Park, although Wednesday was a bit chilly for that.

As for the priorities decided by councillors, shouldn’t this have been done at the start of their term, not the halfway point? The councillors did have team-building exercises, at the taxpayers expense, at the start of their term. Why was this not done then?

Yes priorities may change, but look at where the colourful dots were placed, no difference than from where the councillors are on the record for. Self promotion, economic development, dealing with brownfields, waterfront and more. All have talked about ad nauseam by this council, and every preceding council.

How many years has Cornwall council talked about a waterfront plan? A plan for the canal lands? Dealing with brownfields? The canal stopped being used in 1958, Courtalds closed in 1992, Domtar in 2006. How many years and terms of council is that?

The only real interesting part of the dialogue was the 30 minute talk about taxes and services. Councillor Mark MacDonald finally put his taxpayer champion hat back on, questioning the value taxpayers get for what they pay. Councillor Claude McIntosh may want to check his facts about police response times in the counties.

The real telling comment coming out of meeting came from Councillor Bernadette Clement, “This is very helpful. If you don’t tie the strategic plan to the budget, it means nothing.” This is the councillor’s third term on council, what has council been doing up to this point? Tying strategic plans to the budget is a new concept?

This exercise was an exercise in self-promotion, council’s self-promotion. Nothing shows the public that council is really working than public meetings at the taxpayers expense. Except maybe actually working. Council finally showed some leadership with deciding on fluoride last month, and they have slipped back into treading water again. It is akin to an NHL hockey player playing their best only on the contract renewal year.

One question was missing on those pillars that the councillors put their colourful dots on. Should council spend more tax dollars on consultants like this? The fact it was not on that priority list should tell them something.