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.
Chatham Mazda from Chatham Voice on Vimeo.
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.
Jim, I understand your concern and I share your opinion that if possible we should be "shopping local" wherever possible. I think there can sometimes be misconceptions when referring to consultants and outside contractors.
"Consultants" is a very broad term – not all outside contractors, that could also be referred to as consultants, are actually from "outside" Chatham-Kent. There are also many consultants/outside contractors, contracted by Chatham-Kent that are from our hard-working community of Chatham-Kent. From a taxpayer perspective, in many cases, consultants/outside contractors are less costly than in-house municipal services as they do not have the overhead, salaries, collective agreements, etc that the Municipality is obligated to provide. These contractors provide jobs for C-K residents, pay C-K taxes and generate economic growth in C-K, so let's not necessarily throw the baby out with the bathwater just because "consultant" is sometimes seen as a bad word in our community. If you eliminated all the outside contractors/consultants from working with/for the Municipality, many local companies would likely be put out of business, and many of our fellow citizens would be out of a job. In terms of our volunteer committees, I have experience with many of them and while they are not always on the same page as staff, this isn't necessarily a bad thing as they can provide a useful and additional grassroots perspective. The vast majority of these volunteers are passionate and dedicated to their communities, and we should be encouraging them to get involved and engaged wherever we can. In my personal experience, without our community volunteers the cultural sector in Chatham-Kent would be not be nearly as vibrant and productive as it is now.
Thanks for the perspective, Alysson. Thanks for joining me in advocating for a balanced approach in which professional and volunteer opinions are heard. It does take both to move things forward.
This is very common. Leadership will not view a consultant as a threat. But will often view "inside" views on change a threat. It is part of the very nature of the consultation process.
Thank you for having the courage to bring to light a very important and truthful fact Jim. There are several committees of council that have either resigned or are frustrated to the point of contemplating resignation because their voices are on MUTE when it comes to being heard. Yet, they are the constituents from across CK whose voice should be the most important of all. I hope that both council and administration take note and realize they have a lot of fence mending to do in the coming four years.