Tempers flare at Bridge to Bridge meeting

The Town of Golden Council met to discuss the next step in the Bridge to Bridge project.

The Town of Golden Council met on July 3 to discuss whether there would be a next step in the bridge to bridge process.

The Proposed Loan Authorization Bylaw 1301, 2012 passed three readings of Council at its regular meeting of April 10, 2012. The Town Elector Response Forms (ERFs) were made available at Town Hall in hardcopy and on the website for download and it was determined over 10 percent (in total 746 valid forms were returned to the Town) of the eligible electors in the Town of Golden registered their opposition which defeated the bylaw.

At the council meeting Mayor Christina Benty thanked the large number of people in attendance for coming to the meeting but reminded everyone it was a business meeting of council and under the rules no questions would be taken.

“As I have said in the past our roles as elected officials is to act as custodians for the future. The decisions we make are incredibly difficult at times and are not taken lightly,” Benty said. “It is time for council to take a position and make a decision.”

The first question the mayor asked to council was should the Bridge to Bridge project move forward.

She acknowledged those people who were against the project had worked very hard to get their message out to the public while also sending a message to the elected officials.

“I can only speak for myself. It would be very easy to end it here and wash my hands of this,” Benty said. “No one likes to risk their reputation and tick off many prominent people in the community. It is social and political suicide.”

She then went on to explain that after a great deal of thought about the project and she was “willing to risk her popularity now so that in the future when I am long forgotten that I will know that I did the right thing.”

Benty explained perception had given the opposition consideration but in the end she would have to vote with her conscience and speak in favour of moving the project forward.

“I believe this is a critical project that addresses a fundamental security risk,” Benty said. “Our mandate is to be wise, not to be cheap.”

She said that if people believe the river would never be a threat the people would be naive.

“If we had a flood it would not only impact the businesses along that part of the dike. It would have a serious impact on our water and sewer systems,” Benty said.

She said in her opinion the council had erred by not allowing more discussion in options for the project because they felt the options could be looked at during the design portion of the project.

“I am finding out that doing the right thing the wrong way can be a headache. There is a perception in this community that this was a vanity project for council and at the end of the day a large part of the response against borrowing is about the growing frustration with the cost of living,” Benty said.

She understood from her perspective people have the feeling that everyone is reaching into the tax payers’ pockets and people took this as the chance to show how “sick and tired they are of being gouged everywhere they turn.”

At the end of her opening speech Benty said she hoped the project could go to referendum with an option which would best serve the people.

The first councillor to speak at the meeting was John Jackson who began his response with, “For the record I am dead against the whole project.”

Jackson explained he did not like the idea of borrowing money and felt there was a serious issue with the current grant process.

“We have had this discussion before that if we don’t take the money then somebody else will. It is a change that we have to  make in the whole process,” Jackson said. “The grant process doesn’t work.”

He went on to say he likes the back alley which would be changed under the proposed project just the way it is.

“I don’t think it needs a whole lot of beautification,” he said. “I don’t think that little section of town deserves the concern we are putting into it.”

Councillor Mike Pecora made a statement where he said everyone knew what his opinion is on the project and he has openly supported it from the beginning.

Councillor Chris Hambruch then spoke on the project and the reaction. “The ground swell that took place of the anti Bridge to Bridge campaign was a complete surprise to me,” Hambruch said.

He continued and said he did support the project moving ahead with a project on some level. He agreed the granting system was a problematic issue which should be fixed.

Councillor Caleb Moss said this was the type of project and process which was never going to be easy to find a solution to.

“Voting yes or no is necessary but not the relevant part to this. The relevant part of this is coming up with a community solution that has been recognized as a problem. That solution might be doing nothing,” Moss said. “I do not beleive the dialogue has been flushed our enough…dropping dead and doing nothing at this time without further useful dialogue is probably premature.”

Moss said he was in favour of the process moving forward knowing the project may change in time.

He also explained he was disappointed that Councillor Ron Oszust was not at the meeting via teleconference.

“I am disappointed that Councillor Oszust is not here. He is one that believes that having this conversation in public is important. I did believe that he said it was important to be a part through teleconference today and I am disappointed that he is not here to take part in that because he has an opinion which differs from a lot of us,” Moss said.

This led to the discussion of whether or not the council was in favour of a long term borrowing situation.

“As the way things sit at the moment I would say yes because I believe the infrastructure project is protecting an area of the community over a long term period,” Moss said. “If the project changes in some significant way then perhaps that’s not the way to go.”

Jackson disagreed with Moss.

“In these economic times I would suggest that borrowing in any way shape or form is ridiculous,” said Jackson.

Moss responded to this assertion and said, “Given the economic times shift and change, by definition we may be saying it is always ridiculous to borrow because over a 30 year period things are going to go up and down.”

Hambruch said he was not against long term borrowing but he would like to see some options on how this would be accomplished.

Benty said she agreed with this but she added she would hope to go to a referendum with options as far as long term borrowing and the scope of the project.

“I feel similar to councillor Hambruch on moving forward but looking at different options,” said Pecora.

Jackson felt that moving ahead was not necessary because, “It seems to me the people have already spoken.”

In response to this Hambruch pointed out in his opinion the council had only heard from 27 percent of the electorate.

“We need to give the people who want it a chance to say yes,” Hambruch said. We need to have a dialogue in the community to dispel some of the myths and rumours that had been drummed up during this process. I have lost an awful lot of respect for a lot of people in this community.”

Hambruch added that there have been many incidents of finger pointing, name calling and insults aimed at people since the start of the process. “I haven’t bothered going downtown on a regular basis because I do not like the attacks on the street. I don’t think this position deserves that. I will respectfully listen to anybody who wants to share their opinion with me at any time but I don’t want to be raided or torn out of a conversation with someone that I am having on the street by someone else who wants to rip a strip off me over this project.”

Moss said he agreed with Jackson that something has been said but felt it was a multifaceted message. “My interpretation is not that the people have spoken.”

At this moment in the meeting approximately 15-20 people stood up and left the session comparing the meeting to being a joke.

After order was restored in the council chamber by a vote of three votes for and one vote against (Jackson) Council directed staff to look at the options on the project which could be turned in to a referendum question and report back to the council at a future date.

After the meeting many people who had been in the gallery discussed what had happened outside the council chamber.

“The mayor did what I would have expected the others to do. She justified it. She gave some leadership. I do not agree with the position she had but she had at least prepared herself to react to what the public has said. The rest of them should have put that much thought and consideration in what they were going to say instead of grasping for words,” Bruce Fairley said. “She showed leadership and articulated why it was important despite the results.”

Fairley added he could not understand what the councillors have been thinking about leading into the meeting.

Keith Hern who has been working with the Say No to the Bridge to Bridge said, “I am absolutely speechless that the majority of council would disregard 746 very fully informed, considered responses to their question.”

Dallas Matheson wondered where the people who are for the project were and why they did not do more.

“They made a comment about not hearing from the yes side. Well why didn’t those yes people get a committee together and be here and make a presentation to council. Because they don’t want to. They could care less. They just didn’t sign our no’s. It doesn’t mean they are for it. It means they are too lazy to get up,” Matheson said. “Where were they today to see what this was going to be.”

Matheson added that in her opinion the people had spoken and the council was not listening which she felt was “very sad.”