Talktober just more hot air

Talktober was an interesting, commendable idea when it first surfaced in 2015.

Prince George city council fanned out to hold neighbourhood meetings during the month of October (get it - Talktober?) where they would discuss major city projects and answer questions from residents.

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Four years later, Talktober has now been whittled down to just two nights and both at the Civic Centre, seeing as the journey out to the Hart (known in the Bowl as "South Mackenzie" and known in College Heights as "that horrible redneck hive that has a library branch and a skate park but we don't") is just so far away.

This year's Talktober goes next Tuesday and Wednesday. Staff will be on hand from noon to 8 p.m. and presentations will be held at 12:15 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on both days.

After each presentation, Mayor Lyn Hall will lead a question and answer session.

The mayor's quote provided in the press release shows what he wants to talk about.

"Talktober began in 2015 as a way for council to reconnect with residents," Hall said. "This year will be no different, but because infrastructure reinvestment is such an important issue, and because Prince George's population appears to be continuing to grow and in-fact could be nearing an all-time high, Talktober 2019 will feature information about the state of our utilities, roads, civic facilities, and parks - all of the civic assets commonly referred to as 'infrastructure.' They are a big part of what the City provides to support businesses, recreation, culture, and overall quality of life."

So he wants to talk about the good news.

In other words, Talktober seems to have devolved into little more than a marketing exercise for the mayor, the rest of council and senior staff to tell the community what a great job it has been doing for local residents.

We should all be so grateful!

They are, after all, doing the job we pay (and pay and pay) them to do. The least we could all do is show up to Talktober to thank them, right?

In case the public (or the news media) get to ask meaningful questions at Talktober once the dog and pony show of awesomeness is over, here are a few queries for city council and senior staff:

How much was that cost overrun on the Willow Cale Bridge crossing at Haggith Creek? Was anyone at the city held accountable for that overrun? Why did the city not proceed with legal cost recovery efforts against the parties involved in the design, delivery and/or construction of the bridge?

Why did city council dare local residents to defeat by petition a $32-million omnibus borrowing bill of 11 infrastructure projects instead of just putting the borrowing plan on the election ballot last October as a referendum question? Did city council and senior staff not know they needed to borrow $32 million for this essential spending before last October?

Speaking of last year's election, what happened to those campaign pledges by Hall and the other six incumbent city councillors - all of whom were re-elected - to review the city's overtime policy for senior staff?

You know the one where the city manager and her team - all of whom already receive two weeks of extra holidays each year in lieu of overtime - billed the provincial government at double their hourly rate for overtime during the 2017 Cariboo wildfire evacuation crisis. Hall and the incumbents all said more than once at more than one public forum that they would review a policy that allowed the city manager to bill the province $16,500.40 for 70 hours of overtime at a tidy $235.72 per hour. If the review happened, the results have yet to be shared publicly.

Time permitting, there might be time for questions about wages increases for the city manager and senior staff, all which have well exceeded the annual increases awarded to unionized city staff for the past five years.

The city manager's pay increase in 2018 was only 8.2 per cent and just 3.3 per cent the year before. Perhaps we should appreciate that mayor and council didn't just hand over the 15 per cent pay raise an outside consultant recommended for the city manager.

So many other interesting things to talk about than just the successes that should come when well-compensated individuals do their jobs.

-- Editor-in-chief Neil Godbout

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