General News · 24th August 2010
On August 14th, a different kind of gathering was held at the Linnaea facility. Anyone living on Cortes Island was invited to a respectful and in-depth discussion of the hall tax issue. 48 Cortesians took time from one of their coveted beautiful summer Saturdays to come together to propose and engage in approximately hour-long conversations about what they thought we should be talking about and listen respectfully to all the other opinions that conversation inspired. A note-taker captured the high points of each conversation. At the end of the day, all those notes were gathered into one document and distributed to the participants. They read the document through to see what was considered important in all the other small conversations that went on simultaneously in other rooms. Then, they were asked to choose up to ten of the ideas from the 17 page document that they thought most important. Those lists were sent to me and I did my best to synthesize those into a list of 23 ideas. That “data crunching” was not perfect. Some people cut and pasted actual sentences from the big document, but others improvised a bit. I tried my best to combine similar ideas. Those 23 ideas are at the end of this posting.
The Open Space format assumes that good decisions require diverse opinions to be expressed and listened to carefully. The invitation reminded people that if those of us in a place with so much beauty and wisdom and creativity cannot overcome the “two warring groups” phenomenon, our species doesn’t stand the slightest chance of surviving this century in any acceptable condition.
While I was planning the Open Space meeting, it was brought to my attention that the Strathcona Regional Board wanted more community consultation to take place on Cortes because about 15% of the residents had gone to the trouble of writing to them with concerns. Various members of that board asked if they could carpool and attend the Open Space meeting. I didn’t think that was a good idea. Trying a new way of gathering to discuss a subject that had old friends shunning each other and adding a bunch of strangers to stare at us seemed unwise. Noba had already invited an administrator from the Strathcona board to be there to answer questions and I suggested that we send the rest of the board the result of the meeting instead of having them attend. I have now sent the same 23 points to that board. They are arranged with the point most mentioned at the top and proceeding in numbers of mention to the end.
This marks the end of the Open Space process. It is designed to help a group figure out what they need to consider BEFORE they vote on an issue. We met for about four hours in what is usually a 3 or 4 day event. Did it happen too late in this process? Of course it did. Would we have considered it at the beginning? Of course not. I end this with a note I received from a long time resident, a statement that made it all worthwhile for me.
Hi John- I admit that I was pretty skeptical of the format for the meeting last Saturday, and as I sat there in that big circle at the beginning, it was all I could do not to bolt for the nearest exit. But I now have to admit something else- I realized later, that the format actually allowed me to speak. If it weren't for the smaller groups I absolutely would not have, public speaking being one of my biggest fears. Also, at the other three meetings, with timers and speaker lists, there was absolutely no chance for dialogue to occur, something that has been lacking through this entire process. So, thanks for your time and efforts, and for allowing all who attended the opportunity to raise their questions, concerns or points of view.
THE PRIORITIZED IDEAS FROM THE CORTES ISLAND DIALOGUE
A. NEEDS VS. WANTS. We need to really identify what our needs are first. What core services do we need versus what services we want, and what can we afford. What do we consider the essential role of the community halls? For example, a shelter for women was proposed as a possible core service. If the halls are essential services, then they deserve our tax funds just like hospitals and schools. If not, then perhaps they do not.
B. ALTERNATIVE FINANCIAL STRUCTURES: What structure will allow the halls to survive without a tax? Many alternatives have been mentioned to maintain Manson's Hall as a community hall. It is our understanding that most have not been explored by the SCCA.
C. The SCCA said in the meeting that Manson's hall can stay open without a tax. The financial statement provided appears to show there was only a $500.00 shortfall for 2010. Budgets for 2011 & 2012 show that they can keep the hall open without taxes.
D. Community should keep control over the hall. Concern was expressed that the Regional District could take a portion of our hall tax monies for their own use; e.g. contingency funds- as has happened with the Fire Association.
E. Some people don't go to Manson's and don't feel that Manson's Hall is part of their community. The SCCA wants the whole island to pay taxes to maintain Manson's Hall, but we have to make sure that we realize who is part of that community, and acknowledge that it is not the Cortes Community at large. Manson's isn't the only community on Cortes. It is one of many.
F. We should live within our means. If we can't afford it, we can't have it.
G. We need to find ways to heal our community, to work together, to treat each other in a decent manner, be honest, respectful and open with each other. Historic squabbles and power vendettas are raised. There are some of us that value frankness and the ability to have friendship across differences.
H. Since volunteerism and attention is in limited supply, it may be helpful for the community associations to make more pro-active effort to inform members of ongoing business, problems, needs, etc, before they become a crisis for public discussion.
I. It is easier to pay than to volunteer. Tax is easy for people that have more money, especially people that don’t live on the island year round.
J. Community, what is it? What are the underlying values that define it? How can we decide how much to charge for our hall services until we have a comprehensive discussion about what we consider essential to community?
K. What are the underlying issues that this has revealed? Something is going on in our relationships. This is not primarily about the money. The underground theme of the problem is something else – Losing our independence? Our volunteer lifestyle? Power? Trust? The divisiveness must be coming from working these larger issues out in the name of a tax. We need more discussion on underlying negative repercussions and divisiveness.
L. Our Halls have grown too much and maybe without proper planning, mainly Mansons Hall, and at the same time its resources (volunteers, funds, staff, etc) have remained the same or have diminished. We have a deficit, or a supply and demand unbalance. To make it worse, new groups and organizations keep emerging, all of them looking for grants, resources and volunteers. So, we keep adding slices to the same "resource pie", but the pie has a fixed size.
M. There has been a change in demographics over the past twenty years or so. Greater number of younger urbanites who want to use the hall, but not participate in volunteering. Retired people with money may do both, but many just want to pay
N. The population has changed. It is not as much of a working community as it was, somewhat more of a retirement community and a summer community. Fewer and fewer people show up to volunteer more and more and they are getting burned out.
O. It appears that there are many unanswered questions, and many options to explore: We need more time for conversations, finding common ground and then build a solution on that.
P. What has changed on Cortes Island so we can no longer support our halls?
Q. The shortfall could be addressed by changing membership and user structure.
R. The SCCA needs to follow a business model with a contingency fund, not a community club model.
S. Transparency of communication and expression about community issues is important. The future agenda for the SCCA and WCC regarding development of their assets need to be out in the open.
T. Everyone needs to assume responsibility for and authorship of whatever message they put out into the community.
U. When people oppose the majority view they need to be willing to offer workable alternatives, and that when they demand more volunteer effort to keep things going without a tax, they need to be willing to volunteer more themselves
V. Those who wish to delay a referendum on the issue should be willing to participate in active meetings until we come up with an agreeable solution. Otherwise we are just delaying the inevitable and passing the buck.