Last week’s coverage of the Kemptville BIA Budget issue seems to have generated some heat, as well as some light. It will be remembered that members of Council cut the BIA budget to reduce the Executive Director’s remuneration to a minimum wage level, and did away entirely with the funding for the Pop-Up Shop program. The response to this move has been receiving quite a lot of attention on social media sites since last week’s paper.
Overall, the public response has been sharply critical of Council and their unprecedented changes in the BIA budget. There has also been a lot of requests for clarification concerning the nature of the funding that the BIA receives through the Municipality, with some people upset at the idea that taxpayer money is being used to pay a contractor in a not-for-profit organisation.
The truth is that the BIA receives no taxpayer money whatsoever. Its budget comes from a levy on building owners and some businesses within the BIA area of downtown Kemptville. The Municipality collects and passes on this funding to the BIA Board of Management, who are all volunteers, voted into position by members. It is, or should be, the members decision as to how that money is to be spent, and if they think they need a part-time contractor to operate as Executive Director, it has been the norm that they are free to decide that. The Municipality does not provide grants to the BIA. No taxes are used to fund the BIA.
Having members of Council arbitrarily change the submitted budget is unheard of, however legal it may be technically. Barb Tobin posted a very lengthy justification of council’s actions on a Facebook page last week, in which she pointed out that the budget in previous years had given an unclear idea of what the management fee was for, and she complained that the fee took up an unacceptable percentage of the total BIA budget.
That is not her business, and if a minimum wage position eats up most, almost all, of the budget, then it is clear that the BIA is underfunded, not that the ED is overpaid. It would be impossible to imagine getting a qualified person to work for less than minimum wage, considering the hours worked, and the effort expended on the position. It is not up to council to decide how the funds are to be used, in any case. That is one of the problems the BIA found with council’s interference.
The other main objection to council’s arbitrary action was that they did not see fit to consult with the BIA Board before making the cuts. No-one from council, including their representative on the BIA Board, Donovan Arnaud, warned the BIA that there was an issue with the budget. This could have prevented the ambush at council and the resulting strained relations. Council do not come out of this looking either fair, competent, or informed.
Another outcome of last week’s coverage was a renewal of the on-going debate about objectivity versus subjectivity in reporting in the media, with some posters objecting to editorials (like this one) which take a position on issues. What do people mean by “objectivity”, exactly? Should we simply (as other media outlets do) report “he said…then she said…then he said…”? I agree with the poster who suggested that people look at the video of those council meetings: I disagree that what I wrote misrepresents what was said and done there. What a newspaper has to do is give a context, a sense of what things mean. It would be easy to simply repeat whatever is said by any party, without having to point out that what they said was inaccurate, incorrect, or a plain lie. Should we do that, to preserve our “objectivity”?
I believe the media have a duty to inform, not just print reports without analysis. As a working historian, I have a deep respect for sources, footnotes, context. I hope we are past the days in this community when a reporter will be called to the mayor or councillor’s office after a meeting and be told what should be written.
Everyone, and that does mean everyone, is perfectly welcome to write articles, letters or Facebook posts on whatever they see fit to discuss, and we will print them. But remember this, please: we are privy to a lot of information that we do not print, for various reasons. We are also in a position to know more of what is going on behind the scenes than is obvious in the choreographed performances in the Municipal Centre Theatre. Disagree as much as you want with the opinions expressed in these Op-Ed (Opinion-Editorial) pieces. In fact, I’m sure if some people paid closer attention to the titles used in Editorials, they might get even more out of them! At least there is a forum in which residents can agree or disagree, can debate and be informed by various shades of opinion. That is the role of a free press. Instead of objecting, get involved and write. As our critics have found in the past, in these pages and on our social media platforms, you will be allowed to speak your mind, without fear or favour. That is what a free press means in a free democracy.