If you’re a hired as a consultant by Chatham-Kent, your words and opinions were literally gold to the tune of $5.3 million (gross) and $3.4 million (net) last year.
Earn some initials behind your name, prepare a shiny report and you have the ability to help decide our community’s direction.
If you’re a local business owner or volunteer, your opinion seems to be worth a fraction of that, if anything at all.
That needs to change.
During the last six weeks, conversations we’ve had with members of Chatham-Kent’s advisory boards and committees have shown an often-dysfunctional relationship, in which volunteers feel left out, disenfranchised, ignored and dismissed.
Many even refused to be identified for fear of reprisals.
“If you speak up, you’re out” is how one person described it.
Some of that anger and frustration emerged at the introduction of the draft cultural implementation plan as members of various committees took turns expressing their feelings. To her credit, Chatham-Kent director of community services Evelyn Bish promised a new direction in relations, but she can’t do it alone.
The fact that the meeting attracted a standing-room-only crowd is strong evidence that despite the concerns, there are scores of volunteers who still want to contribute.
Some of these people are accomplished professionals, recognized provincially and nationally but since they aren’t “from away,” their opinions are diminished.
This isn’t to say consultants aren’t needed; quite the opposite.
It can be difficult or impossible to get senior government to buy in for project funding without them, and there are projects far beyond the capability of volunteers, however, well meaning, to complete.
What seems to be missing is the “sniff test” of real-world experts who have built livelihoods and this community on the sweat of their efforts.
The new council needs to send an emphatic message that old boys’ clubs and cronyism are out and citizen participation is in.
The recent tourism destination management RFP process is an example of what works.
The fact some councillors may not be aware of it, is an example of what doesn’t.