Hudson Taxes Montreal Gazette

For those interested, you can share as you wish:

I was quoted on how I feel about Hudson’s big legal bills in the Off Island section of the Montreal Gazette this morning, article by Albert Kramberger, Here’s the full text of my response to his emailed question last week, because they cut and paste and use what they want.

For openness and clarity and no one surprised I had openly copied Council and Mayor Prevost when I responded as well.

My reactions to Hudson’s legal bills:

Qualified anger and significant concern would be my simplistic response at the huge legal costs, but directed at the underlying reasons and the few people not on current Council who have taken actions that resulted in these inflated costs in both time and distraction.

There may have been some very minor errors in exact procedures by a new Council, but I believe that there has been absolutely no bad faith or inappropriate action by any of the currently sitting Council and Mayor. We citizens are correctly kept blind of details in most cases by confidentiality required in some of these issues, but from my view the bulk of the causes have seemed like an organized multi-pronged predation by a limited number of sources. Mayor Prevost and Council have been forced to protect the Town interests and their own reputations aggressively because of these outside actions, so I fully understand the reasons for the number of files and costs. Clearly our Town’s lawyers are both cautious and expensive, we need to manage those points into the future.

Perhaps you should be asking those who would have most benefitted had Council not defended themselves adequately? And questioning the myriad of legal protections of municipal employees who are rightly or wrongly terminated or leave their position.

A municipal government seems an easy target of frivolous claims likely to pay out rather than fight. I am proud that we’ve defended not just our Town but the honour of those elected to serve us, but am disgusted by the legal system that allows this type of expensive process to reduce the resources we can allocate to important things.

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Hudson Summer Food Truck Weekends

A thirty-something friend posted mid-afternoon on Facebook : “Hudson needs a Taco Place” and a lively exchange ensued, allowing me to float one of my random ideas for Hudson. Someone in that conversation asked me to write about it and post on Jim Duff’s Blog, in reality he didn’t have to ask I was going to do it one day soon.

We were once a weekend day trip summer destination for shopping and food mostly. It’s part of our history perhaps we can build on.

Summer  Food Truck Weekends at Jack Layton Park

For a waterfront community we have precious little accessible public waterfront, only one small public launch and dock at Jack Layton Park. My suggestion was to have spaces for between two and perhaps three gourmet food trucks open each summer weekend and set up and promote a schedule of changing food trucks and menus throughout the summer.

Open from late morning until evening, they would be a great draw for residents and out of town visitors to get outdoors, visit our waterfront area, share some great food and spend time at Sandy Beach, walk  and shop the village, visit Greenwood, take in a matinee, head down to Finnegan’s Market.

If you’ve done any of the big festivals in Montreal, you may have experienced or at least seen high end food trucks. These are not your garden variety roadside chip wagons but a wide variety of higher end  offerings often from talented chefs. Think a limited menu take-out Carambola wannabe on wheels. Watch the movie “Chef” on Netflix wherever it streams.

Better yet,  perhaps we could encourage some of the fresh food supplied to come from the new Hudson Community Garden initiative: Eat locally grown, play locally and share good times with families and friends. We have a local Micro Brewery who might be able to license sale of their beer, just another random thought to benefit a local business. Perhaps we could host local musicians and artists as well.

Perfect Hudson Summer Days: wind, water, Sandy Beach, great food, craft beer, art and music with friends and neighbors.

A comment on Facebook suggested that such a proposal would be a good undertaking for the SDC of Hudson, who already have a promotion infrastructure on Facebook and work on behalf of local businesses want to bring more visitors and customers to Hudson. Such a weekly event for a whole summer could gain some traction and attract more potential new residents to our quaint village.

I’m not an expert on the logistics or economics of food trucks, but I’m sure many are owned by entrepreneur dreamers who need publicity and market. If you’re hosting a private event, I’m sure you need to pay them to come. I’m sure they pay big bucks for a spot at the Just For Laughs Festival or Grand Prix Weekend. I’d say we should offer them free space and whatever promotion we have and see if we can entice any high quality takers to come.

Sure there will be many defeatists who find reasons not to even consider this idea. First up was immediate skepticism that the town would make it difficult or over regulated.

I’ll remind everyone of the huge success, local benefits and national awareness of Hudson from Greenwood’s Storyfest. Run through the list of wonderful authors we’ve had, and those still to come and remember it started as a modest idea and grew each year. The vision of the Greenwood Board and their volunteer committee have yet another star studded line-up forming for Fall 2017. Authors come to Hudson, find it a truly special place and want to come back or even talk of moving here.  We need more of that type of awareness of the good our town has to offer.

Hudson Summer Food Truck Weekends would need the interest and support of Hudson Council and SDC, perhaps some modest commitments to supporting infrastructure we should have anyway at Jack Layton Park, security and cleanup we should be doing anyway.

Not a lot to lose: Launch it, try it, and if it works try to grow it into an annual summer long event where we might be able to some day charge food trucks for spaces that are proven to deliver customers.

Tranparency on all sides, because we’re all on the same side

It’s always surprised me that incoming councils don’t include those who lost the election into committees or as advisors. I have mentioned this to councils present and past several times quietly, but the animus of a campaign lingers far too long in a supposedly friendly community.

By year two of a new council, frustration and anger generally becomes prevalent on both sides of the council table. Did citizens really expect that 10+ years of evil or 30+ years of infrastructure neglect could be undone in two years? Certainly the present council could never understand fully the depths of the swamp they volunteered to drain for us.

Every four years, when we’re lucky, we get interested groups and individuals from all around town who prepare and work to get elected. Those who do get elected take the wheel, but those who don’t are generally among the best prepared and knowledgeable people in our small town, yet by having run and lost they are treated as castoffs and often seem like enemies to council because the heated emotions and statements of the election have divided the losers from those who won. Those who lose an election, people with time, energy and ideas, barring some major flaw or inability to work with others, should form the backbone of committees where their expertise is strongest.

That’s the first opaque curtain of virtually every incoming council as they sequester themselves, gird their loins and build walls. Silence and opacity bring distrust and eventually anger and a town remains oppositional and not cooperative.

There have been exceptional ideas discussed at length in these blogs by interested people. There have been exceptional efforts to reach compromises on points and bring formed ideas together in understanding. In the end, with only a microscopic component of disallowed and deleted discourse. There are other places full of similar interested people with similar patterns of discourse. Yet it seems to never filter past the opacity to council.

If council pulls curtains closed, so do groups. The participation rate in blogs like this one are generally low, I believe largely because they are public and require that you own your words responsibly.

Citizen formed places of discussion can be models of transparency and should always be public and not closed groups. I’ve slacked off a bit, there was a time until recently that whenever I posted anything on any blog or Facebook I would immediately send an email with a link to all Councillors and the Mayor so that I might never be accused of talking behind anyone’s back.

Now, I only do that on something I deem truly significant to them or critical of them, so as not to overwhelm their interest and focus or blindside them with criticism from behind. Because trust is important, at the same time I have had private and face to face communications which will remain in strict confidence which allow me to better understand the limitations and challenges council faces.

I’ve encouraged other groups to include council in their email chains, most or all the angry mobs have been driven underground to silence by fear of litigation from thin skinned council and municipal staff.

These are my personal, if not perfectly adhered to, examples of a willingness to transparency with responsibility of confidentiality where it’s important.

If anyone forms an interest group, please take minutes of your meetings, work towards consensus and compromise and forward your minutes and conclusions to council quietly. If you have an idea, well formed and workable, email it to council. The goal is to assist and guide council, not to nail them publicly in an embarrassing position at monthly council. I won’t actively get involved in groups that do not reach rational conclusions with constructive proposals which they share openly with council.

In fact I’d prefer to only get involved with small constructive groups who would invite council to their meetings, they’re unlikely to attend but we can’t ask for transparency and hope for open caucus when we’re not willing to demonstrate it ourselves.

Those we have and will elect to lead our town are our friends and fellow community members, they are not the enemy and they deserve exactly the same respect from us that we do from them. It would be great if such a future mayor was part of a number of interest groups, or the leader of an interest group that sets a sterling example of transparency prior to election.

We’re all on the same side, we all have the goal of a better place to live and only ignorance or anger can defeat and deny good the constructive will we need as a community.

Loving Lone wolves

Love of a community drives some among us to speak out as their public contribution. Blogging is a thankless job very similar to taping a “Kick me” sign on your own back. The most common insult we hear from behind us is that we make a lot of noise and never step up and actually do anything.

I believe that most people underestimate the effort, time, personal risk, legal liability and long term value of single voice public commentary . Especially a voice questioning of the system as it currently is and most especially such a voice within a small community.

Nothing great is accomplished without some significant dissatisfaction with the status quo. We understand that people want to live in a peaceful happy place, so fomenting dissatisfaction is seen as negative by many. Yet, many who never speak up themselves, or “like” something we might post, those who never be seen publicly standing behind us,  are the people who often quietly encourage us to continue doing what we do.

Sometimes a strong single reasoned voice can gather people and effect more change than a whole government. A voice can certainly change the self perception and goals of an entire community to be better for all. Rarely is that strong single voice the Churchill or FDR who can be listened to well enough to lead a community towards a new, difficult or different vision.

Those who do speak out, especially about doing things differently, are simply wired differently. We don’t disrespect the process of government, we attempt to improve it with our freedom of speech and public voice. But, we often don’t see holding office or bureaucracy as a place where new ideas can flow efficiently to a community or a country, instead it is a confining place that would restrict our freedom to think and speak openly.

Once confined within an elected office for a sentence of four years there is solidarity of caucus position of a small closed group defined behind closed doors and usually without significant transparency. To a free thinker it sounds like absolute hell being shackled by bureaucracy and muzzled by convention.

The lone wolves who speak among us attempt to bring their passion to interest and ignite the silent masses and government to action, a process that usually fails without persistence that defies reason. We may seem strange or dangerous  to the apathetic or unaware. The majority chooses to be far too silent to ever change anything because silence screams satisfaction that we lone wolves don’t believe is possible given what we see.

To prosper, ideas and opinions require the tests of reason, fact and reality. Without meeting those tests lone wolves quickly discredit themselves and people drift away.

So, perhaps we should consider a government enlisting and following some of the ideas of the most credible lone wolves and free thinkers, especially those who are credentialed in a field or those have survived decades of speaking out without becoming completely disillusioned, conforming or believing that they might make great leaders if they’d just shut up and run for office.

For those driven by passionate interest, government office can be a sentence where the thoughts your mind says you need to express are silenced and muzzled to conformity of existing thinking.

What a community or a country needs is a competent government self assured and interested enough to listen to a diversity of voices. A government thinking enough to discern and sort the good ideas that they could implement for the broader benefit of the community. What a government might learn from the lone wolves is that we often survive criticism better than governments because we have thought out, researched, developed and truly believe in our own ideas.

We feel generally good about ourselves, so long as we speak we feel we contribute. We do these things of our own time and expense, we don’t want your thanks or money, we don’t need your approval, but when we have a good idea we’d appreciate your open support.

We need more vocal lone wolves and rational free thinkers who might form into or attract a larger pack of like minded citizens. To rebuild our community we need much more noise and many more ideas.

How Green are We Really?

Hudson has opportunities and we have a storied history of bold moves that we have made stick on some green issues like pesticides. But, we’ve somehow lost our ability to act, to embrace and to empower complex and especially controversial forward looking changes.

I’m trying to think big ideas for our future, but think we need to start by implementing small logical steps leading in the correct direction. Also, I would like to promote ideas that more of our citizens might feel comfortable supporting with a comment or like so that council might get a sense of security or comfort to allow them to implement small changes.

We’re intending to revise a bunch of bylaws and zoning, so I thought I’d start to throw some of my own thinking in from way out in left field. I’ll start one green tidbit at a time in baby step form, copy Council and see if they bring any of these ideas forward into a resolution that can be stated in one or two sentences plus the required raft of Whereas clauses to make it legal and binding.

I’ll start with the smallest of greenhouse gas reduction initiatives that could be adopted by council resolution at next council, if there’s will. It doesn’t require a committee, it doesn’t require consultants, public consultations and it fits with our loosely adopted, mainly for appearance of green, but already ignored by our own Council, Green House Gas Reduction planning. Yes, we paid a consultant to have a greenhouse gas reduction plan and then later installed a replacement oil furnace in a town building and it might have been the correct decision.

Green Baby Step One: No more fossil fuel powered new buildings will be approved.

Yes, that’s the whole bylaw or resolution. And no, it doesn’t really change much, except it shows a clear direction by closing less green doors. Just outright ban oil, natural gas and hybrid wood fired furnaces and water heaters for new construction.

That makes electric and solar the only approvable HVAC and water heater systems for new builds in Hudson. In Quebec virtually 100% of our electric power is renewable hydro-electric, wind or solar, and we have virtually no input from oil, coal, natural gas, or nuclear.

Do not ban replacement oil or natural gas furnaces for existing structures; because the cost and complexity to retrofit old oil fired heating systems with new electric can be very high relative to the value of the home. That’s basically the reason Hudson retrofitted a town heating system with a new oil furnace, and while it wasn’t exemplary of green intentions, it was the correct decision due to current financial constraints. Besides, the new oil furnaces are so much more efficient than the old ones that if an existing furnace is more than 10-15 years old it would pay you back quickly to replace it and save a bunch of fossil fuel and the resulting greenhouse gases. Call your favourite local oil furnace guy and ask him how much it would cost and how much you can save.

Blog Squatting

I have been Blog Squatting here as a continuation of my self-admitted local democracy experiment. I would like to thank Jim Duff as my benevolent Bloglord (blog landlord) victim for his indulgence, his turning a blind eye, or simply a lack of interest that has allowed me to indulge myself and experiment here.

Blogging can easily become narcissistic blathering. For the time being, I am hereby evicting myself from being an uninvited main voice on this blog that is not mine. I lack the skills, time, commitment and wider social connections needed to build this Blog towards anything resembling truly relevant discussion. Perhaps in modern times building that sort of relevance is becoming close to impossible. I will try to explain later in this post.

The basic questions I have been trying to answer recently are: How will small communities, lacking a politically involved local newspaper remain involved in their own politics and municipal destiny and what new modern tools are available to fill any gaps left by the disappearance of that local paper? I have yet to find a good answer, and I believe that the tools do not yet exist to replace good local journalists. Communities like Hudson who lack good local papers will diminish in some ways we don’t yet fully understand. Such change will come first to small communities, but where we once had multiple Montreal English dailies we now have one mostly branch office English paper. More of our media is controlled by fewer corporations, never a good omen for having balanced insight among citizens.

I’d like to thank those who have followed me on this period of the blog, an interested and interesting gathering of people who think and care about Hudson’s future and are willing to contribute their thoughts at the risk of judgement. You are quite unique within the municipal political landscape; even participating is a small group discussion can be a scary task in a small town divided into factions and social groups. Very few will like a post, fewer still will discuss it positively and contribute something, and even fewer will ever reasonably object to a position taken and almost no one will circulate a link to all their friends. Debate towards consensus eludes most of the modern world, so bullies will dominate the decision making.

The real control of municipal direction has always existed within an interested subset of any community and their willingness to get involved in any issue, either constructively or destructively would dictate the relative success of failure of successive Councils.

The cycle seems to repeat, driven by an almost insignificant part of our population that becomes disproportionately noisy for what they see as good reasons. One hundred citizens at a monthly council would represent less than 2% of citizens and half are there for constructive comments and initiatives. Ten angry hecklers at the last council represent less than 0.2% of citizens angry enough to debase themselves with inappropriate action. Only a very tiny percentage will form small groups to circulate angry emails and Facebook posts calling to dismantle and replace the Mayor and Council.

It’s easy for me to draw the logical conclusion that 98+% of Hudson citizens are happy enough with the government by a few elected fellow citizens to just not get involved. An alternative question is: If only 1% care, why should I? As I better understand this process, I begin to question whether what I write will be constructive or destructive. Am I better serving the 1% or the 99% and how might I ever balance both sides when one side remains mostly silent? Am I promoting peaceful progress or fomenting dissatisfaction and disruption?

We need dreamers and idealists. But, it can be too easy to get caught up in passion and belief and begin to lose sight of what is possible within the confines of past failures, existing constraints and the overbearing laws that govern municipal governments. None of those are the responsibility of any current council; government is in fact the political science of bureaucratic checks and balances that limit any government’s ability to move off course too quickly. The system is designed to prevent bold actions that happen in less than the time between elections when the people can speak again. It is painfully easy to overwhelm a municipal government drowning in past problems and red-tape with good ideas or well meaning demands and it is absolutely possible to freeze them to failure with only a small group of angry citizens.

I thank and admire all who serve our community, those have served us and those who will serve in the future as Mayor or Councillor. You undertake to dream of a better future for our town, and to work for low compensation and too little respect within a system designed to keep you from doing anything significant without massive support of a silent majority, while enduring the slings and arrows of a tiny minority. Without citizens like our Mayors and Councils, we’d suddenly cease to govern ourselves and quickly be absorbed and homogenized into a bland mediocrity completely unlike Hudson of past times.

Will Social media, including blogs like this one, improve local politics? I believe that social media will not easily join us into causes or drive progress based on broad vision and consensus. Especially in a small town environment with tightly woven social structures that can become quickly judgmental.

We who create blogs or Facebook groups risk dividing ourselves into significantly smaller and smaller groups of like minded people on narrow focused single issues. Until we find a formula that actually engages significant portions of a population into real respectful debate and discussion towards consensus, we will fail to make ourselves relevant.

I suspect that Bloglord Duff may come back in the near future and that his hiatus may have been pondering many of these same issues. Perhaps, Jim will have found some answers that elude and frustrate me, if so I will happily support his efforts to engage and educate more people in discussion.

Hudson Strategic Plan for Dummies

There are very few dummies among us, but today I’m attempting to distill the essence of Hudson’s strategic plan to a few simple sentences.

  • Hudson can’t keep doing what we’ve been doing because we’re slowly failing financially and not keeping up with the requirements of the bureaucracy of the MRC and Quebec.
  • Hudson needs better government, responsive, open, fiscally responsive and completely transparent.
  • Hudson has deep passion for arts and culture and has many involved citizens.
  • Hudson values the beauty of the nature around us and has many involved citizens.
  • Hudson will need more tax paying residents to pay our bills, but we must grow in a planned and controlled fashion that fits Hudson’s image and way of life.
  • Hudson needs be more attractive and better maintained, to be a better place to live, to attract more visitors and entice more future residents to buy homes here.
  • Hudson needs to encourage and enable transitional living options so that residents can age well in Hudson for as long as possible.

This is basically my simple summary of everything Council has resolved to do when they accepted the Strategic Plan at April’s public Council meeting. The rest of the strategic plan is professional, competent, and comprehensive.

The plan shows that they’ve spent a lot of time and thought this out, put some numbers together and set a timeline and plan for staged implementation. Since it affects our future I suggest everyone read it. My previous posts shared the links to the documents or just go to Hudson’s website.

A meeting May 12th will provide much more information and form committees on various points.

For the fearful among us, Council can’t simply start spending borrowed money wildly or making deals or rezoning without public approval on anything major. If they did, they would lose the trust and respect of the people and violate one of their own strategic plan pillars.

I will dig deeper into some of the key Hudson Strategic plan issues in future posts, so casual visitors should check back often. As always, we need more discussion and more voices, so please speak up and comment.

I’d like to thank Mayor Prevost and all Councillors for gathering our comments and listening to citizen’s concerns and then spending the countless hours it takes to prepare such a complex and well thought out framework for the future, especially during a time of extreme duress and complex challenges within our municipal government.

The Prevost administration is the first in decades to undertake such a major plan for our future, they deserve our respect and in return we should take the time to read and understand what we need to do together to make Hudson’s future better.

If we fail to plan for Hudson’s future, Hudson will surely fail.