Sleeping at the switch is an old railway term.
It basically means someone fell asleep and did not move a switch correctly and as a result the oncoming train went into the wrong track and caused a huge derailment, extensive damage, and, of course the usual recriminations.
The George Street parkade fiasco is a prime example of sleeping at the switch. City administration was in charge and responsible for the building of the parkade and had a responsibility to keep the Mayor and Council apprised of the project as it progressed.
Administration did, in fact, forward the information to council and the finance and audit committee over a period of time. It was how this information was forwarded and how administration was able to access funds for the overruns that seems to have caught the attention of the mayor and council, forcing them to try and deal with the problem. By this time, it was too late and the train had already gone into the wrong track.
We are now in the phase of who did what, when, and why, and pointing fingers, wringing hands, making profound statements and demanding accountability from those involved.
That's all well and good for as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. Once the hue and cry dies down, we will be back to the acrimony between council and administration.
We need to do more.
People in Prince George need to understand that the running of the city government is the responsibility of the city manager and those managers under him/her. They do the day-to-day work and are responsible for the outcomes.
The mayor and council have somewhat different responsibilities, which are clearly outlined in our Community Charter and I recommend that you read them. It is not the responsibility of the mayor and council to micro-manage city administration. In fact, any form of micro-managing is discouraged by administration, hence the acrimony.
A rough estimate for the payroll to cover the city manager and six directors is $1,268,000 per year. The cost for the mayor and eight councillors is $388,000.
The mayor and council have taken some action to get the train back on the right track and some people are no longer with the City, however it is not near enough and more has to be done.
It’s time to share the responsibility among everyone involved and that includes the citizens of Prince George.
The voter turn out in the last civic election was approximately 11,000 people or roughly 21 per cent. We need to take more interest in what takes place at city hall. We need to ensure that the mayor, council and administration look out for our interests, because that is what they have been hired for.
Pointing fingers and laying blame is not how we will solve this problem.
Having closed meetings will not solve the problem because the 52,000 eligible voters will be kept in the dark. A local audit is probably not the solution. The provincial office for auditing municipalities has been shut down because of pressure from municipalities who don't like to be audited.
So what do we do?
It’s time for some strong leadership from mayor and council. We need the city to approach the Office of the Inspector of Municipalities and request an inquiry into the parkade fiasco.
The Legislative Assembly created the Office of the Inspector of Municipalities through legislation in the 1930s (a time of municipal bankruptcies) and the inspector was provided with authority to hold inquiries into the conduct of municipal business.
This legislation is still remains, however it has been rarely used. An inquiry would be a significant adjudicative exercise. The matter would need to be one that affects the fundamental viability of local government or have serious consequences for the local government system.
We need to take the lead on this issue and have an inquiry to get us all the answers we need and show us a way forward.
Without an inquiry, the only option left to citizens is a tax revolt. I prefer the inquiry route at this time.
Let’s make it happen.