OP/ED: Predicting the future of the railway

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
August 5th, 2010

I’m not sure if all of you know, but I am clairvoyant. Now, before you turn away and disregard this column, I will demonstrate – I’ll predict what will happen at the meeting being hosted by the City of Grand Forks next Monday night about the expenditure of money to save the rail line serving our local businesses.   Many people will attend who are older (no this is not an anti-seniors column), people who do not currently have to support a family, and people who, anytime the city wants to spend money, show up and demand a stop to the spending. They don’t even know why they are saying no, they just like to be heard. These people are the same reason many others do not attend. There will be a lot of negative comments, and the council will end up in a difficult decision making process because no one stood up and said, yes we need to buy into this!   If this plays out the way I see it, the city will have only heard from one side of the community, and they will be in a no-win situation. If they decide to proceed, they’ll get lambasted by those who attended and said no; if they don’t even take the chance to look at how to keep our economy alive, they’ll be held responsible when the town dies. I don’t envy them their position.   Proper political process calls for the council to seek input from their constituents. The problem with the process is that only certain constituents are likely to show up. Mayor Brian Taylor told me he hopes some of the workers from the companies who will be impacted if the railway closes will come out to make their voices heard. I can only encourage them to do so.   This dilemma has played out several times for council in the last while – just take a look at the problems deciding to develop a dog park or the sports field. The result: inaction on the part of council because they just don’t know who to please.   It’s easy for the media to hype a meeting and drive the negative to get a reaction, but the reality is that the people who support an issue often don’t bother to come out to have a say, except in the case of the sports field but that’s another topic. The challenge for city council is that open meetings are not always the best way to gain insight into a decision.   I’d recommend that council start using technology to its fullest. I may be interested in keeping my job at Interfor, but since I’m working the night of the meeting it’s hard to be present. My belief is that local government needs to be making use of multiple points of entry to get feedback on a topic – internet, print and public gatherings. Only then will they actually get a wider range of engagement with their community. And I’m not talking about a poll on a newsite.   But back to the upcoming meeting – please take the time to really think on this before you, yes you community person, present all the negative “don’t spend money” commentary at the meeting.   Local government is often called on to provide infrastructure and services to their community. In fact that is their job. What better way to support the continued survival of this town than to invest in infrastructure for the business community. If it was about providing water to a company we would do it, why not spend the money to develop a case to keep our businesses doors open and money circulating in town?

And remember, Grand Forks did have a surplus last year… 

Categories: Op/Ed