When I began covering Port McNeill Town Council, the mayor and councillors, with nine months experience under their belts, were still in their freshman year.
* editor’s note – Councillor Shelley Downey and Mayor Gaby Wickstrom both have previous council experience
At the time and for several months afterwards, I felt they were doing okay and my stories generally reflected that belief. For the ‘newbies,’ their inexperience still showed, but what they lacked in political know-how they certainly made up for in terms of hard work. However, and this is where the ‘but’ comes in, the ‘newbie’ label has long worn off and it is time for some to step up their game. Let me explain…
At last week’s council meeting there was an item on the agenda that should have taken less than a minute to review. An organization was requesting a donation of $100 in support of a rockfish awareness project. The request came with an assessment from two separate volunteer committees (tourism and harbour) that had reviewed and recommended approval.
But instead, Councillor Ryan Mitchell ignored the committee recommendations and led council through a 12-minute game of micro-management and debate.
It was not an isolated instance as during the same meeting, council again ignored and spent 14 minutes micromanaging the planning committee’s work and recommendations, before rejecting and returning their work for a redo. No one at the council table considered it might be their fault for not providing these volunteer committees with sufficient information on expectations and goals.
Now some would argue that it is good to question expenses or survey questions, and I would agree if council’s response had been both consistent and equitable. But last week, that was not the case.
While mayor and councillors took a combined 26 minutes to digest and analyse the spending of $100 and the construct of a survey; they approved – in under 60 seconds – the spending of $1200 per councillor to attend an Association of Vancouver Island Coastal Communities convention in Nanaimo. That’s upwards of $6000 with less than a minute’s worth of consideration.
At the same meeting, they received and approved the monthly reports from Public Works and the Fire Department in under a minute. Those departments account for tens of thousands of dollars in expenditures and the safety and wellbeing of Port McNeill, yet Councillors spent more time reviewing a $100 donation then they did delving into the operational details of their town.
These were newbie mistakes but the Councillors are well into the second year of their term and that excuse is no longer valid. They need to figure out how to prioritize their time and make use of and value the work and effort of their department heads and volunteer committees.
Personally, I think they are up to the task but lately have lost sight of the goal posts. They’ve started picking the easy agenda items to weigh in on instead of the more complicated but essential tasks and questions needed to keep Port McNeill running as smoothly as it should.
Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at email@example.com