The so-called Vibrant Futures program
Recently your newspaper took issue with myself and the other members of the Havre City Council who voted against joining the Vibrant Futures consortium, calling such disagreement troubling for several reasons, "not the least of which was that it was along partisan — and apparently ideological — lines." Such a baseless charge is insulting and I felt the need to respond.
As a duly elected member of the Havre City Council, I take my job and the concerns of my constituents very seriously. No matter what the issue, I do not take their troubles lightly or with disdain. People in this community are struggling every day to make ends meet and they deserve "real" discourse in their government, not a rubber-stamp for idealistic pipe-dreams. I cannot speak for the other members of the Council and their individual reasons for opposing this program, but I for one didn't vote against it as a Republican, I voted against it as a member of the Havre City Council and here's why.
1) At no time was the Council ever asked for our support to apply for the three year, $1.5 million Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant. Opportunity Link took it upon themselves to apply for this grant in the first place and when asked, Mayor Solomon responded that he approved Havre's support for it personally. The Council exists for a reason and this matter should have been brought before the entire body.
2) The Council was told that our membership in the consortium would not cost us any money, that we could provide in-kind support in the form of time spent at workshops, etc. When asked how Vibrant Futures would fund itself once the grant ran out, no response was given. Is it conceivable that the City of Havre could be asked to continue support for this program after three years? Yes, and where would this money come from?
3) The Council asked, what we would gain as a member of the consortium? We were told that we would be able to share unnamed resources with other communities, benefit from GIS mapping and data sharing, all of which would be provided free of charge and we would get points toward future grant applications to the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Free of charge? Hardly, these services are paid for by the $1.5 million grant.
4) The Council asked if Vibrant Futures would assist us in the grant writing process and they said no, that Bear Paw Development would still be handling those services. Vibrant Futures would help us gather the data necessary to submit to the various federal agencies for consideration of grants, again free of charge. No examples of potential grants we could obtain were ever articulated or examples of grants we might lose were described either.
5) When the Council asked what we would lose by not being part of Vibrant Futures, the response was a flippant question back to us, "what do you think you lose." Another member of the Council responded, "Absolutely nothing."
If one is naïve enough to believe there are no costs, no strings, no downside to this program, then we have no need for real discourse, we have no need for a Council.
I owe it to my constituents to weigh out all of the advantages and disadvantages and I was not persuaded that the advantages afforded the City of Havre by this incredibly abstract organization warranted my vote to join.
Your editorial also questions our respect for the sincerity of the individuals involved, by claiming that we believe that Mayor Solomon or Barb Stiffarm is part of a United Nations plot. This too is insulting and cannot be further from the truth, I commend all the individuals involved for their hard work and have no doubt about their sincerity or their aptitude, I simply don't share their view of how best we achieve our Vibrant Future.
(Andrew R. Brekke represents Havre's 4th Ward and is City Council president.)