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LOUIS: The optics for Harrison Hot Springs Council are only getting worse

The mullet. The Speedo. Harrison Hot Springs Council opposing keeping meetings at Memorial Hall. There’s exactly one thing these three items have in common: they’re all bad looks.
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The mullet. The Speedo. Harrison Hot Springs Council opposing keeping meetings at Memorial Hall. There’s exactly one thing these three items have in common: they’re all bad looks.

Allow me to back up a step.

Harrison’s council has met at Memorial Hall since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. This was a smart move – the hall allows for ample room for residents to attend, it complies with best practices to prevent spreading disease and it was eventually equipped to broadcast meetings online. It was a win for everybody and great for transparency and civic engagement. The intent was always to move back to the village office when the time was right.

The time is not right, right now, but not for the original reason intended.

The Harrison Festival Society requested that the council move the meetings to a different day of the week. Simply put, this was to allow for time for the Festival Society to set up, host and tear down for weekend special events and concerts ahead of Monday council meetings. For the record, I love what the Festival Society does for this community and hope they receive everything they need and more to continue the amazing work they do.

This partially ties into the 1-4 council decision to keep meetings at Memorial Hall and invest in improving the sound system. Mayor Ed Wood was the only supporting voter.

At any other time, the act of moving the meetings back to the village office wouldn’t have raised too many eyebrows. However, with the recent spike in both online and in-person attendance to council meetings, the timing makes for appalling optics.

I appreciate that this decision is, at least by some accounts, nuanced. It seems there’s more to it than accommodating the largest crowd possible at regular council meetings.

The optimal use of Memorial Hall on the weekends for performing arts events, weddings and other special events means income for the village, money for local businesses and a better reputation for the community, among other potential benefits.

Let’s try to set aside the common lens of general anti-government sentiment for a moment. Like most decisions, the choice to move meetings back is more complicated than what it seems. I don’t pretend to know what councillors are thinking, but I don’t believe this is a decision that was taken lightly.

As far as I can tell, the intent was always to move back to the village hall as that is where business is normally conducted. That said, Monday’s decision is not a good look and the timing could not possibly be worse.

In a matter of weeks, there have been allegations of secret meetings, the departure of multiple village managers, and unrest among council itself that culminated in a vote of no confidence against the mayor. The result of this was a sharp increase in civic engagement and meeting attendance.

To choose to move to a smaller venue now, long before the dust has settled on any of these unprecedented issues, is practically asking to send public opinion of the administration into freefall – again.

It’s possible the administration knows this but doesn’t care. To whom it may concern, this a friendly reminder that positive public opinion is what keeps you employed and in power.

There are a number of ways we may be able to balance use of the hall for all parties. Perhaps the village can invest more funding in setup and tear-down during the weekends in which there are special events or call for volunteers. Maybe there can be pocket gatherings of residents who can watch and participate on Zoom together. Maybe reconsidering the vote on the issue altogether is the best way to go.

To tell the truth, I don’t know what the ideal solution is; maybe it’s a mix of what I’ve suggested or maybe it’s something different entirely. There are multiple factors to weigh, but given the state of the village, maybe it was best to leave the discussion for another day.

What I do know for sure is, regardless of intentions, this is another black eye for council’s already tarnished public image and it is not in the best interest of democracy.



adam.louis@ ahobserver.com

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