June 13th, 2024

Budget discussions have been a long, interesting time

By Lethbridge Herald on November 12, 2022.

Al Beeber
Lethbridge Herald

From Monday to Friday, Lethbridge city council acting in its capacity as Economic Standing Policy committee will be crafting a four-year budget for Lethbridge.

They’ve heard the presentations from committees, departments and organizations and after the weekend they will be getting down to the nitty gritty to determine what the City needs and what council feels it can do without.

In recent weeks, I’ve spent a lot of time and effort bringing to readers’ attention every bit of information I can about budget requests. I’ve done separate stories on the police and fire requests and did some highlights in a separate package.

I’ve informed readers why, from the City’s perspective, we have certain tax rates and what the inflationary pressures are.

It’s all been to give residents the information I feel is important for everyone to consider as council goes through this process. 

The coverage so far by this newspaper has been – from what I’ve seen – the most extensive of any media outlet in the city since I’ve been given free rein to devote as much time and effort as I want to budget considerations. 

It’s been an educational experience and a long journey thus far. These are the first budget discussions I’ve ever covered in my 42-year career and I’ve been endeavouring to make sure all my stories are factual and in-depth.

Quite frankly, it’s been exhausting and stressful because I know how much people will be scrutinizing the budget discussions, the wants and the requests. 

While council chambers aren’t regularly packed with an audience, it’s clear many residents are watching the proceedings online. 

At one recent meeting, mayor Blaine Hyggen joked about the huge crowd in the audience which prompted me to spontaneously wave at him from the media table where one other reporter and I were parked. There were only a handful of people in seats and I’m sure they were City staff. But the response we are hearing here from readers shows residents are watching.

They definitely care as we know from the letters and commentaries we’ve received or seen on social media. 

People are watching council like hawks circling their prey and while some have pounced on initial discussions, I’m sure others are waiting until the final budget has been approved to make their statements. Or until they read my stories from the daily discussions next week.

I think we can expect much more commentary to come our way when council debates and decides upon funding for the police and fire, which are hot topics with the public.

Decisions on those will possibly be among the biggest and most important council has to make.

But no matter what tax increase we face – large or small – no matter what departments or groups get their money, council is going to be in the hot seat because they can’t make everyone, if anyone at all, happy.

It’s the nature of the beast.

After council has made  those final determinations, I’m going to breathe a quick and massive sigh of relief that the process is done. 

I know I’ve done everything I can so far to keep the public informed about City business and when those final stories are written for this year, it will be time to hoist something in celebration that my job covering budget talks – for now – is done.

It’s been a long road and there are still a few miles left to cover. Let’s get rolling!

SPEAKING OF COVERAGE: A week ago, I attended the courthouse rally for the three southern Albertans facing charges in the Coutts blockade. I was nervous given what I’d heard from other media who have been covering the blockade and court proceedings since the turmoil began last winter. I realize the media aren’t particularly popular with some, which I personally know given the pro-masking and pro-vaccinations columns I’ve written since the pandemic.

I’ve taken my share of heat for stating clearly I believe in the effectiveness of vaccines and masking. And I felt that if anyone recognized my name at the courthouse I could take flak over my columns.

My job there was to report what I saw and heard, not put my commentary into my reporting or try to present a narrative that fits with my personal views. The fact I did my job was shown when rally attendees actually thanked me for my fair reporting. 

Despite my concerns I waded  – or waddled – into the crowd with wild abandon and chatted up everybody I came across. I’m a friendly guy and I will make conversation with absolutely anyone. And I think that has helped me in my long career because I show personal respect to the people I’m interviewing and talking to. 

People know from reading my stories and columns for decades I’m someone they can trust and being trusted is a badge of honour for me.

As I tweeted during the rally, I was treated respectfully and kindly by people attending that event as I wandered among the crowd with notepad and microphone in hand and camera slung around my neck. 

I told many people who I was and what I was doing and I was shown extreme courtesy. When I tweeted this, a member of another media outlet had the audacity to make reference to comments made to the CBC, which challenged and contradicted what I wrote. And what I wrote was about my personal experience, not CBC’s whose reporters were singled out for criticism as I mentioned in my front-page story on the event.  One organizer quickly defused the brief situation with the CBC and the hostility toward that outlet quickly diminished.

The response to my tweet was a clear shot at my credibility which was completely unjustified. I stand by what I tweeted. Rally members were respectful to me. Which is fact. 

A prime example of that came when one attendee yelled at me for inadvertently standing on a juniper while trying to take photos. A woman next to me carrying placards that showed support for the three inside the courthouse quickly yelled at her to back off and jumped on the juniper herself, standing beside me and showing solidarity with me as I took my images. That is the kind of courtesy I experienced and I believe it’s because I showed courtesy to those who were there. 

I simply asked questions, took notes and did my job and I feel I was respected as a human being, as well as a member of the media.

This, I will repeat, is fact. And the fact is reporters have an obligation to report what they see and hear, not to try to establish a narrative that fits their personal viewpoints while covering stories. 

Opinions belong in columns such as this one, not being disguised as factual reporting. 

And a minority of reporters in recent years have done a poor job of disguising their political activism as actual reporting. 

Their behaviour is an insult to those of us who are actually doing our jobs as we are supposed to do. It makes the rest of us look bad and I don’t appreciate it. 

I’ve been doing this work for more than 42 years and I’m disgusted when so-called journalists make it clear they’re working, not for their employers, but rather are working to create a story that fits the angle of their pet causes. Most of us journalists aren’t like that. And I hope all audiences – including those supporting the Coutts three – realize and respect that. Real journalists separate fact from opinion. 

 Follow @albeebHerald on Twitter.

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