COLUMN: The silence of the council

We often read about the things politicians say about the various topics they want us to hear about.

Sometimes what is more interesting, however, is what those in elected office don’t say, not because of anything they are hiding but simply because they either have no opinion, they don’t think the topic is worthy of public discussion, or they are afraid of speaking publicly.

I always read the Chilliwack city council agenda in advance of Tuesday meetings, and this week I was wary about just how long the meeting might last.

Agenda items included: new welcome signs, Christmas parade funding, Heritage Park upgrades, Party in the Park cash, the fire department’s 2013 annual report, the 2014 DCC bylaw, the 2014 financial plan and a draft presentation on the city’s Official Community Plan to 2040.

Good stuff.

I figured the meeting would last a while as our six elected city councillors and our mayor would surely have comments about all these topics, wouldn’t they?

Not so much.

Beyond the standard peremptory claims by city staff about how low our taxes are, and a few saccharine statements about how hard staff worked on the OCP document . . . crickets.

What should they have talked about? How about a $190,000 contract to build four welcome-to-Chilliwack signs. Check that decimal place, not $19,000 . . . $190,000 for four signs. Not one city councillor said a word before voting in favour of the plan. What can you buy for $190,000 in Chilliwack? How about four 2014 Audi Quatros; a quaint three-bedroom house on First Avenue; or you could fund 18 of the 22 residential supportive housing units at the Chilliwack Health Contact Centre for a year. Or, four signs.

Neither did anyone on council comment on the $250,000 built up over two years in the Heritage Park building reserve fund, 80 per cent of which will be used for a much-needed project to renovate the mezzanine. Which seems like a cool thing.

But remarkable to me was the lack of even a moment’s discussion about a Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) “request” (I put that in quotes because I’ve always had the sense CEPCO was more of a wagger than a tail) for $65,000 to hire someone through Dutch consulting firm Walas to sit in a downtown storefront to “create new economic opportunities and increase commercial occupancy in the downtown.”

What CEPCO (i.e. the city) didn’t ask the city for was a further $120,000 that CEPCO (i.e. the city) will pay for, for 2,180 hours per year for a Walas staff person to do . . . something. (Yes, that is $55/hour.)

And here is just a taste of some of the synapse-stopping wording from this consulting firm that, again, city councillors did not comment on: “The method of Walas revolves around an intensive programming of activities. We are not working from a master-plan, but rather with a plan-master. He Plans the Work, and Works the Plan.”

What does that even mean?

More: “Walas engages in de development of vita land …” and it also has “en Authenticity.”

The company uses the word “Phantasy” in the document.

If this English as a second language came from a consultancy the city hired in India or China or Mexico rather than the Netherlands, I’m sure someone would have commented. We couldn’t find a consultant in British Columbia, elsewhere in Canada or the continent of North America? Or did former CEPCO president John Jansen and Coun. Ken Huttema (whose photo appears on the Walas website) just need a vacation?

Wading through the PR document, Walas certainly has some ambitious ideas. I’m happy to try to look beyond the terrible language usage to see what it is they are going to do.

But I do find it odd that no city councillor had anything to say about this expense.

And I’m not so sure about the wisdom of hiring a European consultant to solve a Chilliwack problem.

Hopefully I’m en wrongen.

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