Decisions are only as good as the info - Denny Scott editorial
Sometimes municipal councils make decisions we don’t agree with for the right reasons. However, sometimes, they just get bad information.
This isn’t another column finger-wagging at North Huron Council (past or present). It is, however, a damning indictment on how the information they act on can be wrong, especially when it comes to using consulting firms.
Last week North Huron received the first overview of the long-awaited Parks, Recreation and Culture Master Plan, which is being created by a third-party consulting firm, Monteith Brown Planning Consultants. I’ll agree with the review that some council members gave it and say, quite charitably, it was lacking at best.
At worst, it may be one of the most poorly-researched documents I’ve ever seen presented at a council meeting and, given that I’ve covered four different councils at different periods for a solid 14 years now (to say nothing of the council meetings I attended for classes at university), that’s quite the accomplishment.
The report included inaccuracies, glaring holes and, possibly, some backpedaling that would leave Lance Armstrong exhausted.
As Councillor Kevin Falconer pointed out, the report lacked any kind of statistical information for the municipality to help direct future spending. While it’s true those figures may be coming at a future meeting, the report (which was really just a slideshow) is supposed to be shown to the public as is and, as a member of the public, I’m pretty frustrated. The consulting firm made some pretty radical recommendations but didn’t provide any of the information to say why the firm made them. Just, as an example, the consulting firm suggested North Huron Township consider building a skateboard park in Wingham. Aside from a single letter written by a local skater, why was that suggested? How many skaters are there in the area?
Compare that with a presentation from a local skateboarder in Blyth who came to council with statistics, with facts and figures, before he suggested council support rebuilding Blyth’s skateboard park, and you can see why I was frustrated. Also, the fact that the existing skateboard park in Blyth, while in disrepair, wasn’t mentioned at all in the presentation was a bit odd. An incomplete report, however, is far from unique. It took some of those glaring omissions I mentioned earlier to really frustrate me.
What irked me more than the missing statistics is the fact that these consultants, who could be considered professional researchers, either didn’t do any research on the communities involved or discounted the research that is readily available to them. How do I know that? Well they suggested getting rid of one of Blyth’s baseball diamonds.
Ignoring the relative resurgence of use at the baseball diamonds over the past two years with tournaments being held there, one tournament specifically because of the adjacent campground, anyone who lives in Blyth likely remembers that, a few years back, council suggested moving the Blyth hall of the Fire Department of North Huron to one of the diamonds and the strong pushback the community provided against the suggestion.
There are few council meetings I’ve covered in my time that were so well attended as the special meeting North Huron held in Blyth to discuss the issue. There is also no council meeting I’ve ever attended where an idea wasn’t just opposed, but unanimously opposed by the people there. Heck, even the wind turbine debates in Ashfield-Colborne-Wawanosh eventually saw wind energy supporters attending the meetings.
A quick Google search could find not only The Citizen’s coverage of the issue, but also other news outlets’ coverage of how the community rallied against losing the diamond.
There were other problems as well. As Reeve Bernie Bailey pointed out, there weren’t any township-run activities listed in it, like the programs the township operates at its arenas. There were also suggestions to move the Wingham branch of the Huron County Library, something council had never suggested. Bailey also pointed out that the Wingham Farmers’ Market was included as an organization to support, despite it not being active since before COVID-19. Bailey then said the report was incomplete and too many concerns had been raised about it for it to be made public, however council approved presenting it to the public to help further inform the final report that will be presented in December.
So, sometimes it’s not council making mistakes, but the information they have not being up to snuff.