OK So; What Is Your Point?

By Mike Archer. This may sound like the pot calling the kettle black because I have certainly never pulled my punches when it comes to criticizing, or expressing, my opinions about public officials.

I have been strongly criticized for personalizing my political criticism in this community. I believe that a careful accounting of the civic officials, politicians and public figures I have criticized over the years will show they have deserved it.

You may disagree, and you are absolutely free to do so … and take me to task for it.

More importantly, both my readers and the people I have criticized, have always known why I was criticizing them because I stated it. I have never criticized anyone just for being who they are. My lack of respect for some whom I have crticized , while it has been taken personally by many people, has been deliberate and effective. When people are allowed to hide behind the unearned respect given by some media, just because of people’s positions in the community, a lot of bad things can happen.

Respect has to be earned and I believe I have chosen my targets carefully and with purpose.

The slow painful evolution of the current homelessness crisis we face in Abbotsford is but one of the most visible examples of that malaise in Abbotsford.

Abbotsford, more than any community in which I have worked, has suffered for years from a power structure which considered itself bullet-proof to criticism largely because it has never received any from the existing media. In the worst cases, some public figures have been able to rely on what can only be described as “protection” from some so-called journalists and hangers on.

In the absence of an opposition party at the municipal level of government in Canada, that role was once assumed, in most communities, by the local media . In Abbotsford the old media has either relinquished the role of opposition in local municipal matters or, in some cases, abandoned it altogether.

Which brings me to Sandy Blue.

Abbotsford Today has railed against some of the severance packages civil servants receive, and decried both the existence and the appearance of conflicts of interest whenever we have seen or suspected them. We have demanded an accounting of any and all pecuniary benefits that public officials, politicians or public figures receive and wondered aloud, many times, about the influence of outside interests on our politicians’ performance.

Councillor Sandy Blue has been on the job for two whole months and is getting more coverage than even Patricia Ross is accustomed to receiving in the Abbotsford News. Blue ran openly for political office as a citizen of Abbotsford who, like most people with something better than a warehouse, or service job in this city, had to commute.

In her case it was to her job as Economic Development Manager with the City of Maple Ridge. The only possible conflict I could imagine from such a situation was that an occasion might arise wherein Blue would have to recuse herself in Abbotsford over an economic development issue which pitted Maple Ridge and Abbotsford against one another.

In the unlikely, but certainly possible event, that such an occasion might arise, the requirement that she recuse herself seemed more than sufficient, unless a circumstance were to emerge in which her ability to function as a councillor was somehow threatened because of a ridiculously large number of conflicts between the two municipalities.

Again; all of this was dealt with in an open fashion prior to the election.

So; when Blue was let go from her position in Maple Ridge in January, while it was most definitely news, it seemed, at least to me, that it was good news for Abbotsford since it removed any potential for conflict and freed up some of Blue’s time to devote to issues of importance to Abbotsford taxpayers, voters and residents.

She is, after all a well-respected economic development expert with a long track record of success. Abbotsford has never had a councillor or even a bureaucrat who understands economic development the way Blue does.

The Abbotsford News’ local coverage of the story seemed to focus a little more on the description of Blue being ‘fired’ in Maple Ridge than we did but, hey, if the local newspaper wants to take an edgier tone in its coverage, that is their business.

Vince Dimanno was quite open about his disagreement with their coverage and I agree with him. He felt, as I do, that Blue got a raw deal in Maple Ridge and that Maple Ridge will ultimately suffer from what is, despite the bureaucratese used in the press release, a political decision.

Now, with the coverage of Blue’s $127,000 severance package, I’m left wondering why this story is so important or even relevant enough to Abbotsford taxpayers, voters, and residents to merit the coverage it is still receiving? Especially in light of the fact that politicians and public officials in Abbotsford so rarely receive such scrutiny – at least, from anyone but us.

I’m all for full disclosure but all of our politicians are prohibited by law from gaining pecuniary benefit from their positions and required to declare any conflicts and recuse themselves from any votes in which they might have one. Cities, like the rest of us, are required to live up to contracts they sign. There is nothing peculiar about Blue’s severence package. In fact, it is basically the same deal former Abbotsford City Manager Frank Pizzuto got when we parted ways with him.

While at the time we bemoaned the fact that top civil servants get gold-plated severence contracts … even when they do a terrible job … there has been no indication whatsoever that Blue did anything but a stellar job in Maple Ridge. In fact, she is perhaps a classic example of precisely why such contracts are required for top civil servants. When a person’s career is cut short for political reasons they need some sort of protection from the other thing Abbotsford is so famous for – homelessness.

This council has an enormous backlog of terrible governance to deal with. Most of that mess was proudly defended and supported by the newspaper media in this community. Sandy Blue is one of several councillors who stands a chance of helping to turn this city around and abandon the narrow-minded, uninformed and often incompetent decision-making from which we have suffered.

The Abbotsford News is entitled to cover whatever it sees fit but, in the case of Sandy Blue’s departure from Maple Ridge, what does it mean to Abbotsford? It would be nice to hear what, if any, is the point?

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