Turning Positives into Negatives

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curlling clubOnce upon a time, when George Czerny was the publisher, the Enterprise-Bulletin newspaper was an avid and active local promoter: the indefatigable cheerleader for the town; for its events, activities, clubs and organizations. It was the proud voice of Collingwood. Not so, today.

The paper seems to have lost that community passion. Today it comes across as bitter, ideologically-driven, full of negativity and hidden agendas.

Take a look at the EB’s story about the Curling Club renovations.

Here should be a positive story about the collaboration between the town and the Curling Club to share costs, renovate and restore one of the town’s most important heritage buildings. It should be a good news story about how private-public partnerships work well, about how the community gets behind a project for the common good and how the club members have contributed freely of their time, expertise and money to make it happen.

That’s not how the story was written.* Instead, the headline reads, “‘Procedural errors’ by staff part of what led to current situation: PRC director.” It doesn’t mention the positive and valuable contributions made by the club members, nor the hours they personally spent working there – just the dollar amounts.

That’s not how a community newspaper should approach a project like this. This should be about the people, not the bucks. Where’s the community pride that once ran like printer’s ink in the veins of the EB? Bled out, it seems.

In a staff report released on Collingwood council’s April 30 agenda it was revealed that the club is around $204,000 over-budget on the renovations.

Blaming staff for budget overruns is hardly new, but since the buck stops at the CAO’s desk – the CAO oversees all staff – one can construe this negative reporting as a thinly-disguised criticism of him and his administration. Is that the subtext the writer wants us to take away from this piece?

But it wasn’t procedural errors that caused the problem: it was unforeseen restoration costs. The reporter’s headline is erroneous. Like I said earlier, the EB doesn’t understand the process or the politics.

The fact that a group of community-minded citizens volunteered to contribute nearly half-a-million dollars to this project, to put their own time and equipment into the effort to fix a town building, should be the headline. Not this petty, nitpicking criticism. The story is slap in the face to the dedicated 400-plus members of the Curling Club.

Then the writer throws in a completely irrelevant – and ideological – shot at the club and the former council:

Controversy was stirred last October when an e-mail from Curling Club President Larry Young encouraged members to vote for incumbents to council who had already given the go-ahead for the renovations. Young eventually clarified the e-mail was from himself in a personal capacity and not reflective of a political position being taken by the club.

What has this got to do with the work, with the costs or the club itself? It was a personal email. This is sheer yellow journalism.

What’s wrong with any member of the public endorsing political candidates? Nothing, of course, but the writer slyly wants you to think that something Machiavellian was afoot. There wasn’t. I suspect he’s been taking lessons from his cyberbully-blogging buddy – that purveyor of the unfounded allegation and dirty innuendo.

Yes, there is a cost overrun. In part it’s because the contingency fee could have been estimated higher to better take into account the age of the building. In part, it’s because the plan evolved as the project was being developed, and additional costs were added. All of these extras benefit the town – the whole town, not just the club.

The club also put in extras they didn’t charge to the town, while many of them put in personal time and professional expertise above and beyond their financial commitment.

The report itself notes that,

“During the demolition and reconstruction process, a number of building deficiency and design issues were identified… over and above issues identified in the 2012 Building Science Report but required remedy in order to meet Building Code and Health and Safety compliance.”

Come on: no one can plan 100% effectively for this. Unexpected things are bound to happen when you renovate a 109-year-old building to meet modern building codes and accessibility standards. Staff have no crystal ball to read what lies behind an aged wall or a foundation uncovered for the first time in a century. It’s puerile of the reporter to suggest any blame here.

The town might have picked up the whole cost. It’s the town’s building, after all, and many other groups and activities use it. It’s the town’s responsibility to maintain. But the Curling Club’s generosity made the total $475,000 lower than had the town taken on the project alone. We should say thank you to all of them for their consideration and their commitment.

That is the real story here, not this nasty, negative stuff.  How low the EB’s standards have fallen.

~~~~~

NB. The costs could have been somewhat mitigated had council decided not to give Councillor Jeffrey the additional $40K to pursue her personal, out-of-town political goals on the FCM board. Cui bono? The Curling Club’s work will benefit everyone in town. Her campaigning will benefit… herself.

* The article is an example of dreary, pedestrian writing. Passive voice, missing punctuation, run-on sentences, skipping back and forth along the time line and clumsy innuendo… it’s sad that the writing quality has plummeted so low.

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