But why diminish your soul being run-of-the-mill at something? Mediocrity: now there is ugliness for you. Mediocrity’s a hairball coughed up on the Persian carpet of Creation.” (Tom Robbins)

The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men” (Plato)

 There is a bit of an ongoing brouhaha taking place at the Squamish Arts Council (SAC).  Past, and recent board members have been leaving en-masse and the reasons given appear to be the same. Lack of leadership, lack of a democratic process, alienation of some local artists, dictatorial leadership style and arrogance by the current chair Krisztina Egyed. I have even heard accusations of less-than-ethical distribution of SAC funding, failure to comply with by-laws and violations of the BC Society Act. What is also very disapointing, but not surprising, is that the local Facebook Squamish Speaks Group (FSPG), a group apparently, allegedly created to engage the community on a variety of local, development, municipal and other community issues, has been completely silent on this now very public controversy over SAC leadership and (alleged) misconduct. However, since the same person at the center of the SAC controversy, Krisztina Egyed, is also an administrator to the FSPG, the lack of open, transparent and unbiased coverage of important Squamish community issues is no longer a mystery. Well, like they say, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, then it’s probably…well you know the rest.

Although this would appear to be an isolated incident with a single group, Squamish has had a number of embarrassing and unfortunate situations regarding leadership and conduct issues in the MunicipalityChamber of Commerce, Firehallmunicipal elections and other community or municipal groups such as Squamish Speaks. Is there a pattern here? Are the same people involved in many of these groups or leadership issues? Is the local media complicit in some of these issues by avoiding (or censoring) some topics or concerns raised by the community, or through biased or incomplete reporting? If there is a pattern of mediocre leadership or lack of conflict resolutions skills or transparency in Squamish, what can be done to improve the situation? Although I don’t have the answers to these question, I do have an opinion based on a variety of personal experiences I have had with many local businesses, service providers and community groups which might shed some light on some of these questions. I regret that this post is not as clearly written as I would have liked, but it has evolved through various communications and contains ideas and content from more than one source and on more than one issue. However, the three primary topics I am trying to describe (very briefly) are lack of capable leadership, mediocrity and apathy (lack of community engagement on important issues).

Let’s look at the current SAC issue. When there is so much mounting evidence of incompetence or misconduct, and increasing numbers of artists being, or feeling alienated, who are supposed to be served by the SAC, it begs the question of how many functioning brain cells are required for everyone to finally catch on and simply state and demand the obvious? Get the leader out and lets start fresh! Far too many people fail to remove emotions or personal bias from the equation in order to make practical, objective and critically thought-out decisions. Maybe Krisztina is a “good person”, “good friend”, “good sculptor” or “good” at any number of other things. Great, hold on to that and support her in every way you can. But it would appear she absolutely SUCKS as a group leader, so she needs to get out of the way and let the community choose someone else. That person could always be worse, that is a risk. But nothing changes if the same people who have lost the trust of the community, or the confidence of their Board, remain in place. We as a community should not have to settle for average or mediocrity. We should be able to demand excellence in character, integrity and of course leadership. Our leaders should, at the very least, also recognize when they are not serving the best interests of their members, group or community and simply step aside. To do otherwise, to carry on a façade of empty support for your conduct and ignoring the wide-spread criticism of your lack of leadership, is to bring shame and humiliation to an already bad situation. Nobody is good at everything so when the people you represent have spoken with their words and their feet, and made it clear that you suck at leadership, put your ego aside and just move on for the sake of the group. There is no shame in admitting failure, but there is when you pretend everything is just fine, or try to shift the blame to other’s (“Jervis and Matwychuk breached SAC’s bylaw, missing numerous meetings“). Children do this, not responsible adults with integrity.

Yes, I don’t pull too many punches. But when some in Squamish who are supposed to represent the best interests of the community, are instead feeding their own egos or whatever personal, emotional/psychological construct is superseding their ethical obligation to work in the community’s best interest, I find this intolerable and unacceptable. What often makes matters worse in this community is the apathy expressed by so many. Many will whine and complain about something, yet do nothing about it, not even speak up publicly when it could make a difference. Or, many will blindly stand behind someone in the community they know personally and will completely discount, or ignore overwhelming evidence that there is a problem. This does not help us as a community. In fact it does quite the opposite by reinforcing the attitude by many outside of Squamish that we are “backwards“, “rednecks” and with services which are “just good enough“. I know we can do much, much better than that but it will take us, the community, to set a higher standard for our leaders and make sure we put quality people in those positions of authority or responsibility which can make a difference. We must demand accountability, weed out the incompetent or mediocre and support the best that Squamish has to offer and NOTHING LESS.

When we fail to take a stand against mediocrity, incompetence, poor leadership, misconduct or breach of ethics, we are implicitly supporting these behaviours and no longer have any right to complain. It also reflects very poorly on our community as a whole when we fail to take decisive action, an unwavering stand, against mediocrity or misconduct. It also shows what level of services, and what “standard” of behaviour or character, we as a community are willing to accept.

I also don’t believe we will ever evolve as a community unless there is more community engagement on matters of public interest. Although community engagement is always a personal choice made by each member of the society, the responsibility for putting in place the atmosphere, the tools, the opportunities, the education and the encouragement for healthy community engagement rests solely with our municipal leaders. We (Squamish) have a new “Communications Person” at the District and many new council members, but I have seen no changes, or even proposals, which lead me to believe anything will change in the near future with regards to improved transparency, communications and community engagement initiatives. Maybe people are being cautious, maybe there are other factors which the public are unaware, maybe there is something in the works, maybe our leaders are cowards. I just don’t know.

Anyway, I went a bit off topic here but clearly this is an issue of community development which resonates with me. I want to see Squamish excel in so many ways that it always pains me to see conduct, or attitudes, which are self-defeating to that goal. If we have crappy leaders then boot them out, FORCE them to step aside and let’s try again and see if we can’t do a better job, with higher expectations and new faces. It really, really is US, the people who are in charge and get to build the community we strive for and deserve. But it will take individual will, community and collaborative effort and of course an expectation, a DEMAND for excellence from our leaders. We have many suitable people of high caliber and integrity in our community and so we simply need to encourage and support them while showing the door to those who fail to meet our standards for excellence. It is (one of) my dreams to see Squamish become an “Enabled Community“. I believe by combining the collective will of our best and brightest, choosing capable and skilled leaders with integrity, standing up against misconduct or incompetence and demanding excellence, we can get there.

In the mean time, if you are a local artist, or just a troglodyte like myself who could not fold my way out of a beginners origami class, but who nevertheless has an appreciation for art and would like to show your support, please come out to the SAC Annual General Meeting this Wednesday July 11 2012, (7-8pm, 37950 Cleveland ave) and help vote in new leadership.

Johnny Stork