Rhino's Ramblings: Y Not?

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Robert Thomas

It is by far one of the hottest issues in the City right now and it all surrounds the Moose Jaw YMCA and it's board voting to cease operations at the 220 Fairford Street East location and expand in the the Co-op location.

A decision made by the board in April of this year. A decision which still only has to receive a new 10 year lease from the Co-op and bridge financing to proceed. A decision which may now be under reconsideration. It's all up to the board to decide.

It could happen as early as today.

This is an issue which has been festering for months and the rumours, facts, half truths and emotions are so intertwined that separating them is, at best, cutting the Gordion Knot.

The problem is, where do you begin? And how do you present the facts and reasons for the move in a manner which allays fears and presents things in an up front manner after it went on for so long? It's a massive undertaking.

In the Board's defence, I have no problem believing this was a tough decision. How do you close down your flagship location after you have been there for half a century? How can you sell it to your membership who have wanted answers for months?

Throughout the special meeting, brought about by a petition from at least 25 members, what you saw were attempts to lay out the financial facts and the numbers which drove the ultimate decision.

The big thing the board was attempting to show was with increased competition, a building needing renovation and a toughening market to fundraise in made the move inevitable. They had made the hard decision after examining the facts and projecting what the future held.

Sadly, in many ways they failed. Some of it was,!in my opinion, a failure to deliver an effective message detailing the financial reasons. In my opinion, many attendees didn't see it going far enough to explain the reasoning and finally you are up against a philosophy or a culture of philanthropy which is almost impossible to place a dollar value on.

Now who is right or wrong on this really, in many ways, comes down to what you believe in. It's a very hard one to decide.

But here is a general observation I can make as to what I saw and my opinion at the Y special meeting. What I witnessed was a group of individuals who the Y has touched and for many helped to have better lives or they have witnessed others go through the Y and seen the change its had.

These were not poor people speaking here these were people who are highly successful and to them there is a social necessity for the Y to continue on its mission of heart, mind and soul to help out people of lesser means to have a chance of bettering themselves.

It in many ways seemed like a meeting of two philosophies one where rightfully or wrongly one group was being painted as a faceless board against the ordinary guy.

Sort of along the lines of what someone once told me was like this - Corporations don't make ethical decisions they make business decisions. That's how harsh some of the criticism is.

What happened on Monday night was on the scale of turnout at a public meeting was substantial for Moose Jaw. There was a lawyer acting as a Parliamentarian to ensure the meeting or any decision ran according to the rules of corporate guidance which is a first for me. A private PR person hired to assist with the presentation and the media. There was even video recording by a professional media company although there were major technical problems with the microphones throughout the event.

I even heard a voice from the past as former Moose Jaw alderman Clive Tolley spoke with the passion and charm which got him elected over 25 years ago. Something which livened up what was once referenced as the "viper pit" by a former member of Council to describe the weekly Monday evening meetings.

A big unravelling of the night was when Dave Kelly gave a powerful speech saying what attendees had been told was not factual more than once.

"Things presented tonight haven't been presented in a way that presents the facts," Kelly said.

As a board, how do you fight that sentiment when you have close to five percent of your members in the room? Can you try to claim you are facing a vocal minority or do you try to at least reconsider the April 19th board decision which decided to commence the move? These people are not the casual users, these are the people who are the heart and soul, as well as the culture which pump life into the local Y.

From what was said by the board chair and the CEO it seems they are willing to listen to new ideas and if there could be a way to help pay for the Y's operating costs.

But after all was said and done, I did hear one person the next day state that the problems were the work of rumours spread by one individual. That that individual had hung a sign on the door which inflamed the members and led to all of the problems. That moving from the Fairford Street location was similar to voting to keep the former Civic Centre instead of the move to Mosaic Place, just a sign of the times and resisting change was based on sentimentality.

On the other hand, I heard another voice stating that they felt mislead when it came to the entire issue, given the April 19th decision. They had been told it was a possibility when they inquired but given what they heard they had lost a lot of trust.

Finding common ground isn't going to be easy on this one.