Thursday November 30th, 2023 - 02:03:35 AM

Mary Lee and Mayor Hope "Saw it Coming" - but Did Nothing
Austin Wright, March 4, 2009

This is in response to a letter that recently appeared in the Chatham Daily News, apparently by Mary Lee. I'm not convinced it came from her own typewriter, but let's presume it's Ms. Lee that I'm refuting.

Mary Lee states that she and mayor Hope predicted the financial crisis coming. This seems to suggest some form of joint occupation of the mayor's chair is occurring, perhaps in exchange for the questionable endorsement scheme that resulted in Hope being elected. However this teamwork came about, it defies logic that the pair claims to be more astute than the leading economists.

If mayor Hope saw this coming, which I don't believe for a minute, why has he spent the first 27 months of his term fiddling? His accomplishments for Chatham-Kent are remarkably few, and in the midst of this crisis remain impotent.

In fact, an inventory of the mayor's most memorable achievements reveals a trend.

First, he tried to reward his campaign manager with an $85,000 year job by creating an unnecessary advisory position of political influence that he couldn't justify to council. The Chatham Daily News published speculation that this person was alleged to have a pecuniary interest in stopping the Rec Centre.

Then, Hope killed the Rec Centre, the construction of which would have been employing people today - likely funded by federal infrastructure stimulus. Hope justified his defeatist decision proclaiming that no government funds could possibly become available, and when $7 million fell out of the blue, the Capitol Theatre got them instead.

Already we must question his poor judgment, since funding did indeed materialize - creating a controversy in the process that wouldn't even have been on the table but for Hope's stance against St. Clair College - a major employer incidentally. That must have thrilled Hope's manager, who published several scathing letters loaded with venom against the Capitol Theatre project in the hope that it might fail.

Next, a corporate review concluded that the mayor's relationship with the acting CAO was dysfunctional, and recommended the new CAO be chosen based on the elected mayor's ability to get along properly. This is a damning indictment of incompetence.

Chatham-Kent has been bleeding jobs since Hope took over. Not only have we still no permanent Director of Economic Development, but no attention whatsoever has been given to business "Retention" as plant after plant closes. At this point, we can safely conclude that no auto manufacturer is going to build a plant in the Industrial Park and save the day.

We have to focus our resources towards retaining what we have. That includes our struggling small business sector, which will likely be our best prospect for creating any new jobs in the future. To get elected, Hope promised to open Chatham-Kent for business. It's too late to start thinking up his plan now, we need action!

Over twenty mayors of large municipalities met recently to discuss the auto industry crisis, but mayor Hope arranged a more important press conference that same day. Instead of announcing the attraction of a new employer, his big news revealed that Chatham-Kent would share the notoriety of hosting the Olympic Torch along with every other Canadian community on the way to Vancouver. This bumbling demonstrates how profoundly misplaced Hope's priorities are.

Finally, at budget time, more money materialized from the province. There was no need to warn of the usual 8% tax increase that would be ceremoniously pared down a couple of points in dramatic fashion for the cameras. The problem is that this funding is not stable. Without it, I suspect we'd have faced a double-digit increase, and we still might if it's not in the till again next year.

The chance to find enough meaningful cuts to either reduce property taxes or invest strategically in ventures that promise a return on investment to lower tax rates in the future has been missed yet again. Hope promised to take the lead in this regard during the campaign, but seemed to lose his initiative when council denied him an unelected assistant.

In her published letter, Mary Lee places her faith in Hope's "bright new leadership." Now Hope cannot be blamed for the global economy, but for over two years he failed to act in our neck of the woods when it might have made a difference. The rest of his stale term will probably be spent in a clueless form of reactionary damage control.

Not only did he take office with no plan when things were going moderately well, but he's been caught in the dark during our time of crisis. Unfortunately, he's in way over his head. This was the wrong mayor in good times, and thanks in part to Ms. Lee's misguided faith, the wrong leader to preside over a "long, long recession."


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