Scott Findlay’s letter to Chelsea, Quebec Mayor Caryl Green

avatar

by admin on February 9, 2011

Dear Caryl,

The past couple of years have been difficult for Chelsea, Quebec, its council and its residents. In Chelsea, as elsewhere,the obstacles to sound decision‐ making are formidable and growing. Scarce resources and increasing demand mean increasingly intense competition among interest groups. Greater demographic and sociocultural diversity means that more effort is required to ensure meaningful public engagement. And increasing scientific and technical understanding means that more effort is also required to keep abreast of this expanding knowledge base.

Our observations of, and participation in, community undertakings over the last year or so, have led each of us to the conclusion that Chelsea is experiencing difficulty surmounting these obstacles. Public discussion on the issues facing Chelsea (taxes, municipal water and sewage, the Meredith Center, and the PPU exercise, to name just a few) has become increasingly disharmonious and divisive. In part this reflects the fact that many of the issues confronting Chelsea are transformative, and will affect the face (and heart) of Chelsea for decades to come. Unsurprisingly, the greater the stakes, the higher the temperature of both public and private discourse.

But this is not the only problem. In our view, the current atmosphere also reflects (1) a decision‐making process that is inadequate for transformative issues; (2) limited staff capacity, which translates into limited ability to provide council with the information it requires to make informed decisions; and (3) an inability on the part of council to pose the right questions, to ensure that these questions are directed to those best able to address them, and to assess the validity of answers received. In short, it is our belief that the current situation reflects largely an inadequate decision process; inadequate scientific, technical, economic and financial capacity; and inadequate political oversight.

We understand there are constraints. Chelsea is a small municipality. Resources are limited. There are few staff, and these few are expected to

1do many things. Councillors are part‐time. And above all, the issues council is confronting are complex with implications that are challenging to discern, let alone evaluate. Under these circumstances, problems (2) and (3) above are inevitable, and problem (1) is, if not inevitable, fully to be expected, irrespective of the motivation, dedication, and efforts of staff and council. The consequence is a decision‐making system where people are being asked to make decisions that demand too much of them. Under such adverse conditions, properly informed decisions simply cannot be made, a fact increasingly recognized by Chelsea residents. The result is a serious erosion of public confidence in their municipal government.

You know most of us. You know that we represent a broad range of Chelsea residents and a broad range of views on particular issues. We are not an interest group, other than we are all deeply committed to the municipality. And despite differences of opinion on particular issues, we share a deep concern with the manner in which decisions are being made on transformative issues, and how these decisions are being informed by public discourse.

We write not simply to complain. We believe that the problems noted above can – indeed must – be resolved. Most importantly, we are willing to invest the time and effort required to do so. But we are only willing to do so subject to 2 conditions: that the Council recognize that (1) the problems referred to above exist; (2) that informed decisions on transformative issues cannot be made until they are resolved.

Therefore, we request that at a special public council meeting, to be held in the second or third week of February, council provide a formal public response to two questions:

(1) Do you believe that at present, council’s ability to make informed decisions on transformative issues is compromised by lack of capacity on the part of both itself and staff?

(2) Do you agree to place an immediate moratorium on all decisions relating to transformative issues, specifically (a) water and sewage infrastructure in the Centre Village; (b) large commercial/residential development proposals; (c) the Meredith Centre; and (d) the PPU exercise, for a period of 3 months, so as to allow time for improvement, redesign

and implementation of an improved governance model and associated decision‐making process?

As noted above, it is our view that the present system is ill‐suited to the problems at hand. We are hopeful that council shares this view so that we can move forward together.

Yours sincerely,

C. Scott Findlay, 6 ch. Vincent (819.827.5246) Cc: members of Chelsea Council