City of Fernie city hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

City of Fernie city hall. (Scott Tibballs / The Free Press)

Writer’s Block: On seeking political kudos

The Free Press columnist Bill Phillips muses over the effectiveness of requesting positive feedback

Sometimes it’s just too easy.

Mayor Ange Qualizza’s recent speech to the Chamber of Commerce, imploring business owners to speak highly of the city rather than being critical of council, was, for pundits like me, too easy.

Those who seek out good press rarely get it. It’s not that they can’t, it’s just the wrong way to go about it.

She spoke on a couple of topics that are different, but related … online vitriol and her desire to have the community pump council and staff up (isn’t there an election this fall? Just askin’).

Her comments came a week after Coun. Troy Nixon publicly accused Regional District of East Kootenay Area A director Mike Sosnowski of trying to ram through the Galloway Lands proposal, which he probably is. However, the point is if you want people to speak highly of you, you probably shouldn’t be casting stones at others. Glass houses, etc. You get the picture. (BTW, isn’t the Galloway Lands issue in Sosnowski’s jurisdiction?)

Her comments also came on the heels of a damning external report on the organizational structure of the city. The review, conducted by Innova Strategy Group and commissioned by the city, concluded that the city is held back by a history of inadequate leadership and poor accountability, and while it has been making improvements since 2020 it continues to operate at a ‘moderate’ level.

The Innova report described the organizational culture of the city as ‘varied’, resulting in “key issues such as accountability, trust, and working together are at times misdirected, leading to overall reputational harm and decreased operational performance.” Leadership was noted to have had significant turnover, while employee development was “lacking in several areas” causing problems with succession planning and training.

Rather than dwelling on such reports, the mayor suggests we should instead be trumpeting successes such as the $14 million in grants the city has secured over the past little while, adding those grants mean the city taxpayer isn’t on the hook for those projects. She’s right there, and good job. However, city taxpayers also want to know what’s being done with their money i.e. can’t we get some roads paved? I know we’re marketing ourselves as an outdoor adventure destination area, but do we really need a goat trail to get to The Montane?

Enacting the 43 recommendations in the report will go a long way towards a better public perception of the city.

Her related topic, which sparked the “Sunny Ways” message was the ongoing cesspool that is social media. The City of Fernie has shut off comments on its Facebook page because of ongoing threats, intimidation, and general crap.

On this one I can sympathize. The Prince George Daily News (which I founded in 2016) shut off its Facebook comments last year. We did it not because we were getting threatened (we weren’t, but other journalists have), but rather because what is being said on Facebook contributes nothing towards society. People who think being derisive is funny, people who believe that because they feel aggrieved they can be abusive, and those who are just plain old misogynist, racist, bigoted, intolerant, etc. aren’t contributing anything to anything. We simply don’t need it. And if you think being able to call someone a name on Facebook is free speech, you have no idea what free speech is.

So, I can certainly support Qualizza’s statement when she says if you have a beef with City Hall, contact her, a city councillor, or staff directly. Don’t beak off on Facebook because that solves nothing.

That being said, city council is a public body so it is open to public scrutiny and criticism.

Bill Phillips is a 30-year veteran of journalism. He grew up in Fernie, and started his career at The Free Press in the 1980s.

Municipal Governmentmunicipal politics