It’s not often I disagree with a decision made by Osoyoos Council. But I was stunned Monday when the Town’s mayor and four councillors rubber-stamped a sign design that was quickly and quietly approved at a cost of more than $146,000.
I don’t have any issues with the amount being spent. Monument signs come at considerable expense and, in its wisdom, Council earmarked provincial Resort Municipality Initiative funds to cover program costs.
No, what set my jowls to flapping was the way the Town went about selecting a design.
No public input.
Just four people — two Osoyoos councillors and two Destination Osoyoos board members — making a decision the community will likely have to live with for the next decade or so.
Four people out of 5,000 — with three additional councilors co-opted after the fact — determined what visitors will first see when they drive into our community.
In fact, just a handful of people even saw the nine design options delivered to the Town of Osoyoos after a call went out in October. No one else has any idea what might have been, how else we as a community could otherwise be identified.
The whole process — from tender closing to decision — took no more than four weeks.
I suppose this could be the exception that proves the rule — Osoyoos Council is generally very thorough in its inspection and deliberation of projects.
This time, though, the Town of Osoyoos missed a golden opportunity to build community pride and engagement through the sign selection process.
Expediency trumped community building as the Town set its sole focus on putting the signs in the ground prior to the May 2018 long weekend.
It lost sight of the truism that a community’s signage is a manifestation of its character and culture.
Signs are artifacts and symbols that express values, standards and ideology. They create a sense of solidarity — “I live here,” the signs announce as they enclose those who live within them.
“And I’m proud to live here.”
That, perhaps, is the biggest frustration Osoyoos residents should have with Council’s decision to rubber-stamp the sign committee’s decision.
Community infers inclusiveness, a sense of belonging. It means the right to be engaged and involved.
But the privileged, narrow scope of Council’s selection process was anything but inclusive.
In fact, it was exclusive.
There were hints selecting new signage was going to be a big deal. Council itself engaged in a bit of wrangling when it came time Nov. 6 to pick which two councillors would be sitting on the selection committee.
All four wanted in and the jockeying for the coveted positions went on for several minutes.
(You can check out the action yourself with the Town’s video archive.)
Surely that might have led an astute councillor or two to consider if all four of them wanted enthusiastically to play along so might so many others in the community.
How might the Town have remedied that without engaging in a lengthy tortuous design-selection process?
At the very least it could have published the nine designs and asked for community input.
Better yet, it might have hosted an open house and allowed residents to peruse three or four short-listed designs, provide some input and then take community preference into consideration.
Better still, it would have walked back this process and invited sign designs from its citizens — and then set about finding a contractor to build and install the winning design after removing and disposing of the existing signage.
Would it really matter if the signs had to wait another 12 months before they went in the ground?
The sign’s design team — from its perceptive viewpoint in Calgary (more than 800 km from here) — describe the signage as “friendly, welcoming and sophisticated.”
My sense is they could go up outside any community, the only difference being a change in name and catchy tagline.
I’ll leave it to you to determine for yourself what the proposed — and now approved — Osoyoos signs say about our community.
For me, they speak to corporate ideals — cool and calculated, utilitarian and bereft of any sense of the wonder and welcome contained within our resort community.
The signs don’t welcome visitors to a community; they welcome travellers to a town.