Saturday, January 9, 2016

No More Joiners On The Live Work Task Force

It's not really a coincidence that I work alone in a pretty little doll house.  I can make my own rules.  There are no hurt feelings, exclusion or bullying.   In fact at 47 years old I still wake up every day and say, Thank God I don't have to go to school today.  Nothing more terrifying than the playground and hearing the words, 'NO MORE JOINERS!'  I said those terrible words as a child and I had them said to me, but now that I'm a grown up I try to be conscious of making every one feel welcome.  Even those that disagree with me.

To tell this story I have to take you back a few months to May of 2014.  The scene is Lunenburg Town Hall.  In front of me is the Planning Advisory Committee, the mayor, staff and two councillors.  Behind me are 100 people from our community who came to support me and to support removing  red tape for Home Based Businesses.  I won't take you through the whole fifteen minute talk explaining what several Halifax officials had so patiently  taught to me about why it is incorrect to apply commercial code to home based businesses when there are land use provisions permitting them, but....It was pretty damn good, if I may say so myself, and it was crystal clear.  Somehow, though, when I had finished speaking it was also clear that I was being ignored.  Had I not had 100 intelligent, supportive people behind me holding me up, I would have lost it.  Actually, now that I recall correctly, I think I did lose it and lamented into the microphone about how I wished my town had stood behind me and done this work on behalf of one of its citizens and then I remember crying about how I have been feeding my son hot dogs for a couple of months because I have been so distracted.  After that it's a bit of a blur.  I know that I felt loved by the people in my town.  I remember the Dark and Stormy with Ironworks Rum that I drank afterward.

So, now fast forward a couple of weeks and the town responds by stating that they will create a Live/Work Task Force, which will explore home based businesses in the town of Lunenburg.  A committee that will report to a committee that will report to council with a time period of one year.  I lost it again.  This time in the privacy of my own home.  I could not understand why an issue of red tape that could be so simply solved with a little understanding was being addressed with more red tape.

I had no interest in joining this live/work task force.  I was angry.  But, after simmering down I decided that joining would be an opportunity to work together with council to review our land use bylaw and see where we can be doing better.  Our Land Use Bylaw was written in 1996 and today there is a very different economic reality in Nova Scotia.  So, I put my name forward.  Three other people put their names forward.  Our e-mails were ignored.  For Months. The committee called for 3-5 members of the community and 1-2 councillors.  At a council  meeting in September, the mayor asked Councillor McGee if he was moving forward with the task force.  He responded by saying there was little interest.  I asked a few more people if they would consider putting their names forward and they agreed.  A notice comes from Town hall on a Wednesday that the Live/Work Task force will meet on the following Monday at 12:00.  A few of the people could not make it, so I asked if we could meet on the 19th.  Yes.  We could.

A few days later there is a letter from the town explaining that there are too many people that have volunteered.  Please complete this application form, attach a resume if possible and council will choose who will serve on this task-force.  With the meeting scheduled for this Monday I received the following e-mail from the town.

Seems that the vast majority of people that put their names forward received the same letter.  My reaction?  You have got to be kidding me?  I disagree with the town and therefore I will be excluded?  I'm the one that has just devoted two years of her life to consulting with building officials and planners in this province and  in other parts of Canada and you want to exclude me?

How can we teach our children to include others on the playground when this is the example we set for them.  I acknowledge that I am threatening to the town.  I know what I am talking about, I am vocal and I stand up for myself and others.  But, you know what?  I know how to play nicely.  I understand that if Nova Scotia is to survive that we have to engage diverse voices and bring these people together.

Conflict is hard.  It doesn't feel good, but no great decisions, ideas or  inventions ever came about without conflict.  The trick is to respectfully hear each other, hold our tongues and find the grain of truth in what those that disagree with us are saying.  We all know how hard this is.  It's why we tend to navigate towards people that agree with us.  It's much easier, but it doesn't result in productive change.
Do we want change in Nova Scotia?  It's cool to say yes, but many don't.  It's frightening.  It takes us out of our comfort zone.  But, if Nova Scotia is to be viable in 30 years we are going to have to learn to hear from those we don't want to hear from.

We all know that excluding me from The Live/Work Task force is not the right thing to do, but it is the safe thing to do for our council.  Shut that Hat Lady Up! 

So, who did make it onto the Live/Work task force?  Funny you should ask.  After discovering that all the names that had come forward to serve on the committee were supportive of Home Based Business, council reached out into the community to find some voices that were not supportive or at least not supportive of understanding the facts.   Only three of the ten people that put their names forward were accepted.  One is already a member of the Planning Advisory Committee who this task force is meant to report to, two councilors,  one who voted against removing three parking spots for Home Based Businesses.    A former councilor, Jamie Myra, who I believe is not supportive of home based businesses,   The mayor's hairdresser, who has a home based business, but made a point of contacting me, months ago to defend the town's position because she was forced to put in extensive fire separation in her home when she opened her business years back.  (A little note about that: Before Lunenburg adopted Land Use Regulations in 1996, it would have been up to the building inspector's discretion to determine if the home based business was a commercial occupancy or part of the main residential use.  It was unfortunate that she was asked to make these changes, but with present land use regulations, she would not be asked to make these changes, unless the town did not inform the building inspector that they have land use regulations)  With the exception of a couple of citizens on the task force, none of these other citizen members showed up at any of the meetings regarding Home Based Business to express their concerns.  Why are they getting involved now?

Who was excluded?  A woman whose husband makes beautiful knives and has been experiencing terrible red tape in trying to build his shop. She previously worked for the federal government.  She was so distraught about not being able to have her voice heard that she confessed that she feels that she wishes she could have chosen a more welcoming town.  A gentleman who has written provincial legislation and has been very supportive was also excluded.  He also used to be the town CAO.  Two more calm, reasonable people were excluded.

If the town wanted to reach out into the community to have more voices heard, I wonder that they didn't try to solicit the voice of a young person wishing to start a home based business.  What they did was to create a task force where nothing will be accomplished.  They have stacked the decks against progress.  Clever, but sad.    However, I am sure that they will  write on their web site how wonderfully they are  addressing the concerns of home based business owners.

How do I feel?  I feel like little Anna on the playground being told that there are NO MORE JOINERS!
Time for the community to make their voices heard.  All will be welcome.  Stay tuned.

Here's the agenda for the Live/Work Task Force

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