Crosty says point made with New Westminster office tower loan campaign

James Crosty, organizer of a campaign to have a referendum on the city
James Crosty, organizer of a campaign to have a referendum on the city's plan to borrow $59 million in order to build an office complex, makes his way down Sixth Street with his partner's mother, Alice Thompson, 88. They were delivering signed forms he had collected calling for the referendum from his office to city hall just before Tuesday's 4:30 p.m. deadline.
— image credit: Grant Granger/NEWSLEADER

James Crosty's stroll down Sixth Street Tuesday afternoon with a tall stack of forms had a pied piper spirit to it.

However, the parade came up a couple of thousand followers short of what was needed.

The unofficial preliminary count of forms submitted to city hall calling for a referendum on council's authorization to borrow up to $59 million turned out to be 2,098. That was less than half of the 4,528 required by Tuesday's deadline for the "alternative approval process" to be successful.

As he left his office, Crosty, a former candidate for mayor, was accompanied by several supporters of his campaign to force the city to hold a referendum on its decision to borrow money ostensibly to fund construction of an office tower above the new Downtown civic centre.

As he sauntered down the sidewalk with his forms, others joined his journey to City Hall. Even more discussed the issue with him while the 15 bundles he brought, about 1,500 forms in total, were stamped by legislative services employee Jennifer Janzen, and more again out in the parking lot afterward mere minutes before the deadline.

It was a scene, he said, similar to what he experienced during the long weekend as the deadline approached.

"We weren't under any illusion it was going to be an easy task," said Crosty on Wednesday. "I'm not disappointed. We made the issue something people wanted to engage in … It was a good shot. I'm proud of the people that went out of the way to go to door-to-door and collect the signatures."

Crosty said it was a tough task made even more difficult because the city only allowed 18 days during the summer for residents to sign the forms. He believes the backlash that developed will force council to make their process more public when making decisions on borrowing money.

"They need to go to the public," said Crosty. "People have to believe in the institution (city hall) and this particular thing has put a credibility gap where none should exist."

One of the misperceptions that developed, he said, was that all those that signed the form were opposed to the borrowing or the office complex. Many just wanted the discussion to be done in public.

Mayor Wayne Wright, however, said the discussion was conducted publicly, but the city didn't do a good job of getting its message out, something he intends to correct in the future.

Wright said when the city first revealed it was going it alone in developing the office tower to go along with the civic centre it didn't get much public attention until the campaign started to get organized.

"We've got nothing to hide. We'll show exactly where we're going and why we're making good decisions," Wright said.

While Crosty called for referendums to be held when the city decides to borrow large sums, Wright said the city was only employing the tried-and-true method done for years by municipal governments across British Columbia as laid out in provincial legislation.

Wright said he has had many people come up to him recently to voice support for council's position. The mayor also said he occasionally talked to people submitting their forms at City Hall and when he explained what council was doing they were OK with it.

"The bottom line is we're pleased with what's going on and we're trying to get a job done here," said Wright.

The mayor maintained he has not definitively said he would not run in the next civic election. For those that do seek reelection at that time, Wright doesn't envision it becoming an issue if the office complex hasn't been sold by then.

"It's a huge asset for the city, regardless what position it is in at that time," said Wright. "This particular building is going to be very sought after, at the very least it will be leased out."

Although the preliminary total of returned forms came up well short of the needed 10 per cent of those registered in the 2011 civic election, the eligibility of each one still must be verified. The 2,098 total, however, does represent nearly 20 per cent of those who voted last November. The results will be reported to council at its next meeting Aug. 27.

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