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A clear example of what happens without oversight

Township officials are not to blame for the break-in at the Woolwich Memorial Centre. Culpability falls on those who thought so little of the facility and the people of the community who use it.

Woolwich administrators are fully to blame for the extent of the damage, however.

Oh, they didn’t trash the place, wantonly destroying the interior of the building. But if there’d been a security system in place, the perpetrators would likely have run off when the alarm sounded after the first door was smashed. Those involved certainly would not have had free rein to run amok in the facility.

As a result, the community had gone without access to some services, and taxpayers are on the hook for costs, starting with the $10,000 deductible on the insurance claim.

But what transpired in the aftermath of the New Year’s Day incident is symptomatic of problems within government bureaucracies. Officials, elected or otherwise, have said little about accountability. However, someone or group of someones made a decision to omit a security system when the WMC was built. We can speculate that was done to save money as the project costs grew: modifications were made before and during construction as the budget was strained. Perhaps the idea was to install a system at a later date, finding the money elsewhere in order to maintain the illusion the project was on budget, a not uncommon tactic. The building has been open for more than four years, however, and the issue was not revisited.

What we have seen in the interim, is the township wasting considerable amounts of time and money on what it calls being proactive: coming up with all sorts of questionable policies, rules, changes and schemes that are little more than make-work projects for staff. The need for an alarm system, a basic component in even the smallest commercial buildings, let alone a $23-million facility, was never identified, however.

All but one of the current group of councillors arrived on the scene after the WMC was opened, so it’s not surprising they were unaware of the problem. But these are the same councillors who place far too much weight on the recommendations of administrators, usually going along with staff-driven policies and placing excessive trust in them. That’s been a long-time trend, not new to this council, but the WMC vandalism highlights what happens when there’s no oversight.

It’s council’s role, of course, to set the agenda. Its job is to assume an adversarial position where the bureaucracy is concerned, representing the public’s interest, which is often at odds with what bureaucrats advocate. That’s particularly true when it comes to bloated staff numbers, salaries and benefits, but applies equally to assumptions that bureaucrats necessarily know what they’re doing all of the time. As former councillor Ruby Weber, who was very much involved in the WMC project, noted this week, there was an assumption the building would have an alarm system. But one knows what they say about assumptions …

What happened after the break-in can’t be undone, but it’s now imperative that councillors press for accountability. The public needs to know how and why an alarm system was dropped, who made that decision and how the situation went unremedied. If heads must roll, so be it. That may be uncomfortable for councillors, and the bureaucrats they’ll have to force to do the work they’d rather would just go away, but they’re elected to do what’s right for the public, not what’s comfortable.

 

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