Thursday, April 4, 2013

Does His Worship Have Everyone's Attention Now?

Mayor Jack Mussallem offered up a TV clip for  CFTK TV7 this week that certainly provided for a bit of dramatic overview on the never ending state of the Watson Island situation, recounting some of the City's talking points on the file over the last few years.

His Worship concluded the interview with a bit of a thermo nuclear explosion, offering up the thought that if unresolved, the spiralling cost of the seemingly never ending Watson Island situation could lead the city down the road to bankruptcy.

Holy Bankruptcy, Batman!

That's bankuptcy with a capital B...

We're not sure if the Mayor's message of potential distress was designed for the local population, or for the larger collective that gathers at the Victoria Legislature.

Perhaps it was his version of the Bat Signal, telling the local candidates for provincial office that the situation is very serious and we could use a little help here, when it comes to the Watson Island file.

His review in the TV 7 clip of the ongoing issues associated to Watson Island, would suggest that he's seeking perhaps a bit of relief from the provincial government, and with an election campaign now underway, there perhaps is no better time to remind the local candidates of the Big, Big Elephant in Prince Rupert's room.

Of course, the Watson Island file  surely deserves a more thorough public review for Prince Rupert residents, than the short two minutes and a bit clip for TV 7's evening news.

The archives we've gathered on the Watson island stories make for a helpful primer on the topic, but it too is quite incomplete, just snippets really of the story that has dominated the community's pysche for a good number of years now.

It is one of those key topics, especially if the word Bankruptcy is going to be mentioned in the same breath,  that might in other communities play out in public forum at the council chambers.

With councillors (and maybe the public too) asking pointed questions of the Mayor and administrators, as to how the situation evolved and why it continues to cast a shadow over the city's future.

Unlike other towns and cities however, our elected members of the local chamber of debate puts forward a more united and collegial presence in their public sessions, the real conversations perhaps taking place in the plethora of those closed conclave's that dot the City Council schedule.

The net result it seems, that one day you wake up as a taxpayer and learn that your city is apparently on the cusp of going broke, go figure!

Maybe, should the city actually find the load too heavy to bear, we'll hear the full story. An inquiry of sorts might be useful to the residents as to determining how the troubles of a failed company, and the impact it seemingly had on the city, one day led to the path of potential penury.

For optimists and those awaiting Batman, the Mayor in his TV 7 account suggests we still have thirteen flips of the calendar page before that day may come to pass.

Regardless of the timeline, his use of the B word, certainly will catch the attention of the local populace, though many may not realize that Prince Rupert has gone down Bankruptcy Road before.

The City's website offers up an instructive review of the 1930's and our handing over of the powers of local government to the Province, a duty that the province did not relinquish for close to nine years.

The city has been governed by a mayor, and council, since its incorporation in 1910 but that ended when the city was declared bankrupt in1933. The Provincial Government appointed W.J. Alder, a former resident, to act as Commissioner for the Corporation of the City of Prince Rupert. 

 Mr. Alder arrived on May 15, 1933 to assume his duties of restoring the city to a sound financial basis. The Provincial Government announced in October 1942 that the municipal government was to be restored and an election was called for December 17, 1942.

Before it ever gets to that, perhaps a little proactive action could take place. Requests could be made of Victoria, if indeed the situation is as dire as would appear, to intervene. Lending not only assistance to the Watson Island situation, but to the larger issue of the City's financials.

Though we imagine if indeed the province would ever to become involved in the City's financial plight, it might wish to gain the full picture of our distress and offer up some financial planning guidance, before we have to just toss them the keys (again) and wish them luck.

Maybe the Province could provide to have an independent observer come in, review the entire picture of the city's finances and offer up suggestions to avoid the dreaded day down the road.

Beyond the Watson Island situation, there's clearly a need for the city to make some hard decisions as to what they should, or should not provide to the residents and taxpayers. Putting up for public review and consideration as to where residents may wish to have them cut costs and remove financial burdens.

Many will bring up some of the past topics whenever these discussions come up, CityWest and it's eastward expansion, the cost of the Airport Ferry, Golf Course expenses, how we approach road maintenance and infrastructure issues,  grants to local groups, what to do about the current budget surplus (a topic that no doubt confuses local residents when there's talk of potential bankruptcy) and on and on the list could go.

All valid topics and ones that never seem to get a thorough public airing.  Items  of discussion that should be on a table one would think, especially framed in the concept  of the city even discussing potential bankruptcy.

At their last council meeting, the now soon to be departing Acting City Manager offered up his thoughts on the budget process currently underway, offering up some of the items from the various city departments as they handed in their wish lists (1:05:00- 1:42:00 on the City Video archive), which in the scope of any talk of potential bankruptcy seems rather bizarre.

Likewise, with the City heading into negotiations with its workforce this year, one wonders exactly what kind of negotiations can take place there, with the fiscal cupboards in a possible state of flux.

Add on the need to replace not only a City Manager, but now a CFO, (first line of the job description for either position could be Do You Really, Really, Like A Challenge) and you begin to understand the nature of the rising number of potentially overwhelming topics on the City Council agenda these days.

Council will be seeking public input into the budget process on April 15th, with the Mayor's conversation on financials to TV 7 and the recent comments in the weekly paper about potential cuts, there's surely much for the public to discuss should they be inclined.

Hopefully, considering the fiscal concerns at hand, any hard questions will receive clear answers at that time and a way out of financial Judgment Day can be found.

The litany of financially troubled cities in North America has normally been limited to the likes of Stockton, California and Detroit, Michigan, the latter so dire that they have even been turned into a Taiwanese animation feature.

A cautionary tale of woe, that may portend for Prince Rupert's destiny (and a video fate we surely don't desire) if things aren't addressed in the next thirteen months.

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