It’s a matter of perceptions.
A number of things came up at city council meetings on Monday and Tuesday, and each could affect the perception of the average person in Prince George as to how things are done in the council chambers.
At Monday’s regular meeting, a couple of councillors asked for a delay in third reading on a proposed residential development until a couple of reports had been prepared. Coun. Garth Frizzell said he was concerned that technical reports he got on Friday had to be gone through in enough detail to make an informed decision at a Monday council meeting.
Coun. Murry Krause indicated he had no problem with that timetable, relying on the knowledge of staff to prepare the reports correctly.
So some citizens may now say, “so why are we even bothering with a council? Just have staff prepare the reports and go ahead from there.” It’s a problem common to many municipalities. People see councillors “rubber-stamping” reports from staff to make decisions.
The problem is not with the reports, which are almost always done correctly and to the requirements of council. The problem is with the perception of staff making the decisions, and council just saying okay.
The other item which came up Monday was a request by Mayor Dan Rogers to have Coun. Dave Wilbur added to the council contingent on the Finance and Audit Committee. It’s a committee that has a lot of paperwork to wade through, and Rogers felt the extra councillor would help.
Wilbur, however, would have been the fifth member of council on that committee. That would be, technically, a quorum of council enough members to carry a vote of the full nine-member council if they wished.
Again, councillors noted there was no assuredness that all five committee members would vote as a bloc when matters came to the full council table.
There would, however, be a perception to the public any time the five voted in favour of a committee decision that they were being allowed to dictate policy to the full council.
Wilbur, after listening to some of the discussion, asked to have his name withdrawn for the appointment, saying he didn’t want to cause problems. It was, in the circumstances, the right thing to do and that is the perception the public should have.
At a budget meeting on Tuesday, Coun. Cameron Stolz objected to the perception that the city’s share of costs for a new hybrid garbage truck would be lessened by grants from other levels of government.
Stolz’s argument was straightforward. It doesn’t matter what level of government the money comes from, it’s the same taxpayer.
None of the councillors, however, voiced the same objection to any of the other projects discussed Tuesday which are receiving funding from the provincial or federal government.
So the perception is that we worry about it being the same taxpayer when it’s a project we have concerns about, but don’t worry about that when it’s a project we’re in favour of.
These are all small things, and many people may not even have noticed them, but they all colour the perception of council in some way.