This column appeared in Friday’s edition of the Saint City News.
The St. Albert Taxpayers Association gets a lot of ink in this town. A week rarely passes that SATA President Lynda Flannery is not in the news taking potshots at city council for something. Now and then, she makes a good point.
Whatever the issue – downtown redevelopment, Riel Park sports facilities, the Arden Theatre, Servus Place, a new public library, funding for the arts – SATA has an opinion. Usually, it’s the same one: don’t do it!
Ms. Flannery, a retired human resources manager with a master’s degree in economics, is an inveterate writer of letters to editors. She’s been known to dismiss people she disagrees with as members of a “special interest group.” Indeed, SATA’s Website describes the organization as favouring a community where “municipal spending is in the best interest of the majority of taxpayers rather than special interest groups.”
But SATA does not speak for all St. Albert taxpayers, including many who worry that residential taxes here are too high. Plenty of St. Albertans support our city council’s efforts to keep taxes under control while also recognizing the importance of supporting recreational, historical and cultural facilities and activities.
Now, when you annoy SATA, you must be prepared for a blast from the association’s ardent band of letter writers. Their remarks can be, shall we say, intemperate. You may be accused of being a rich newcomer with too much cash in your pockets. And woe be unto you if you support a tax-funded project and fail to mention your membership in a “special interest” group that backs it.
Fair enough. If you can’t take it, you shouldn’t dish it out. But what about SATA?
On the theory that turnabout is fair play, it’s reasonable to ask the same questions of SATA. Who is on their board of directors? How many members do they have? Where does the money they use to run their website and advertise in local newspapers come from?
None of this information is available on SATA’s website and, when I contacted her, Ms. Flannery would not say. She argued that since SATA does not seek tax dollars, it is entitled to treat that information as private.
Fair enough, but that said, its members can hardly complain if others speculate about them. I have been to one SATA meeting and it was sparsely attended. Without the facts, I could easily be wrong, but my sense is that while many St. Albertans are concerned about taxes, only a very small group supports the extreme positions taken by SATA.
Moreover, I suspect that like many groups of this type, SATA’s active members are not opposed to all developments that impact taxes, but are cherry pickers, opposing only those they’re not interested in.
At the meeting I attended, for example, I suggested funding the Northern Alberta Business Incubator might be a place we could save a few tax dollars. This didn’t get a very good reaction from one participant who said he was on the board of NABI. None of the dozen or so people at the meeting argued with him. This left me wondering if one taxpayer’s “special interest” is another’s “worthwhile initiative”?
Regardless, I think SATA makes a useful contribution to our civic discourse, but if they demand full disclosure from others, they need to be prepared to offer the same, or not be taken too seriously. Moreover, we know what they are against. But what are they are for?
Now, in the interests of full disclosure, here’s mine: I have been a volunteer member of the St. Albert Public Library Board for three years, I think St. Albert needs a new library and would like to see one built. I recognize, however, that any such project requires extensive public buy-in.
I have been a resident of St. Albert for close to a decade, and I live in one of the city’s more modest neighbourhoods. My pockets do not clink with gold, although I wish they did.