- Published on Wednesday, 24 April 2013 23:04
- Written by Super User
Being one of the “undecided” regarding the proposed pool project, I took time to attend the recent council meeting to hear the Aquatic Committee’s presentation. Duke Hagestrom did an excellent job delivering the presentation, and it was clear that he and his fellow committee members had done their homework.
However, the second portion of the presentation – the video production consisting only of testimony from pro-pool citizens – was troubling, especially after Duke had already acknowledged the town was divided on the project 55/45.
Assuming the polling was impartial and properly sampled; most people would interpret it as a town evenly divided. So why, with clear knowledge of a community statistically evenly split over a controversial project, did the committee’s video presentation only include “pro-pool” interviews?
Had a private group made the presentation, bias would have been understandable. However, this is a town committee, as such; they are supposed to represent citizen opinion respective to the input they receive or know to exist – not favor one citizen’s input over another’s.
A fair (and normal) committee process would have been to present the project details to Council, and let the public voice their support or opposition. Or, if this committee felt a video presentation was a better way to represent public opinion, why didn’t the video include an accurate mix of opinion (55/45)? Whatever the reason behind the decision, what could have been a learning experience for the public gave way to little more than a pro-pool advertizing blitz.
As concerning; “we all” paid for the video production - even those opposed to the project! Apparently Council authorized the use of $2,000 from the feasibility study funds to pay for a professionally produced video that would wow the audience and set a “supportive tone” at the meeting. So where’s the $2,000 for the citizens that are undecided or not in favor of the project? How are they supposed to produce a video that expresses their difference of opinion with equal impact?
Frankly, there was nothing about the presentation that offered an equal platform for public input.
Did people have a chance to get up and speak against the pool? Sure, they could have; but as independent voices could they really have competed with the overwhelming pro-pool message of the video? I’m use to town proceedings, so the video didn’t intimidate me, but I can see how it could easily have intimated others less familiar with the process or less comfortable speaking in a public forum.
Surely Council understands that manipulated presentations don’t build citizen trust? Do they also understand that the entire creditability of a committee report is undermined when any part of the report is seen as biased? Are we now expected to maintain confidence in the costs and revenue projections when other parts of the presentation have clearly been “colored” to be something they aren’t?
Most importantly, our Council should never use our town committees as marketing tools against our own citizenry. It’s normal to use taxpayer funds to “inform” the community, but I’ve never seen a Council spend feasibility funding to mount an ad campaign targeted at disenfranchising a segment of its own community.
Fact is; public process is, and should be, important to all of us. Our committees take their charge and direction from Council, and its Council’s responsibility to mentor them in remaining objective and inclusive of all shareholders, and to insure an “equal platform” for public input.
The use of a taxpayer funded ad campaign designed specifically to roll-over opposing citizens’ viewpoints should never be a consideration. Where was our Council liaison to the Aquatics Committee when this was being planned, and why did he fail to advise and guide committee volunteers on these important public principles?
Over the years I’ve worked with Duke on several town projects and committees, and in that time I’ve found him to be honest, professional, and someone that loves his town. So my comments are not intended to minimize the time and commitment Duke and his fellow committee members invested in their efforts. Nor do I have an issue with the folks that appeared in the video - they were simply voicing their opinion. My concern is strictly over the underlying intent of the video, and lack of guidance by Council to insure an even playing field for public input.
I’ve always felt that one day we should build a community pool. But is this the time?
Should the pool come before a much needed operations center? If there’s a revenue shortfall, will non-CB rates be increased to cover it? Will having to rely on a large revenue share from non-residents and off-island groups/events allow CB residents adequate enjoyment of the pool? Will the loss of existing parking, and additional parking required by the pool, become a bigger problem than expected? Can we run the pool efficiently – or will it become another skatepark situation, where rules are continually relaxed due to difficulty of enforcement or lack of staff?
Since I left public office I’ve intentionally refrained from offering opinion on town issues, instead focusing on my town volunteer work. But as a citizen and taxpayer I have a right and an obligation to question these issues. So don’t let people distort the message at hand simply because I’m the one raising the subject. And let’s hope Council handles the remainder of this process more impartially than we’ve seen to date.
Carolina Beach, NC