One can just imagine the joy suffusing citizens’ faces when they read that Georgetown, following the example of villages, mining areas and towns in this green and verdant land of ours, is to have a ‘City Week’. Well everyone else does, seemed to be the gravamen of the argument in favour of the idea espoused by those clustered around the horseshoe table at the City Council’s last statutory meeting. And after all, it would only cost the cash-strapped M&CC twenty million dollars.
Those who live in the capital and who are not blessed with a boisterous disposition must be nervously recalling some of the jollifications which have been held within the city’s perimeters in the past. On those occasions ranging from Main Street Limes to sober exhibitions residents were treated to ear-blasting levels of gangsta rap or dance hall music, while the surrounding atmosphere vibrated with noise and chaos. And then, of course, there were all those fun mountains of garbage to be cleared up afterwards. What more could any law-abiding citizen ask for from their council?
Councillors who adopted a parsimonious approach to the ‘City Week’ proposal more in tandem with the municipality’s bank balance, were assured by some councillors involved in previous discussions as well as by the Mayor that the urban jollities did not have to cost as much as twenty million; the sum could be something more modest, and in any case the exercise was intended as a fund-raiser. Ms Chase-Green seemed adamant, however, that Georgetown’s birthday – because that is the excuse for the festivity – should be celebrated, and she invited suggestions as to how that might best be done.
One might have thought, perhaps, that given the shambles associated with the management of the city, someone might get up and ask, what are we celebrating? While no one did – at least not directly − one conscientious Councillor did propose that the $20 million be put to paying off the NIS arrears of council staff. She should go to the head of the horseshoe table right away.
If City Week celebrations at this time sounded bizarre to weary citizens’ ears, they were not as bizarre as the timing of the discussion. It was at this same statutory that Town Clerk Royston King indicated his fear that City Hall by implication might disrupt future deliberations by collapsing in on meetings. The week previously, he related to the council, part of the building on the northern side had fallen off. “It is in a state where we can no longer continue…” he said.
While a stray beam descending unbidden, and rapping one of the city worthies seated below on the knuckles might not qualify as the tragedy of the week, the caving in of any portion of City Hall, let alone its entire disintegration would be a disaster of unimaginable proportions.
Now as everybody well knows, this magnificent structure has been defying the laws of gravity for years now. When the PPP/C was in office, nothing was done about it because that government didn’t like its occupants, so there was a certain sense of relief on the part of the citizenry when the current administration took over the reins, because its President – when he was not absorbed with painting the town green, that is – was perceived as being sensitive to the historic heritage of the city.
However, his assumptions that the APNU+AFC regime at the local level would grasp the urgency of acting to save City Hall, in particular, have turned out to be somewhat misplaced. While not saying anything about anyone, he made a passing reference to the state of that building only recently. If the council is not quite seized of the exigency of the matter in the way that the Head of State might like, the denizens of the horseshoe table were certainly not slow to grasp the danger to themselves of a frail structure, and one of them ventured to ask how they could be sure they were safe, and that “before the end of the day this part of the building won’t collapse.”
Mayor Chase-Green’s response was that they had been informed by one consultant that they should continue to occupy it, “because if we remove from it it’s going to deteriorate much faster.” However, she then qualified this by going on to say “[E]very day it’s deteriorating and so we can’t stretch the life of it longer than we should…we have to make arrangements to remove ourselves from it as early as possible to save the loss of life and limb…”
For his part the Town Clerk added to the Councillors’ sense of insecurity by telling them “[W]hat we have over our heads that’s preventing storm water from coming through on us whenever it rains is a piece of canvas…”
And the solution to this problem, it would appear, is a meeting to discuss the issues, and the formation of the inevitable sub-committee. The Mayor then moved to the matter of relocating the council, making it clear that the council doesn’t have money for renting a building to accommodate it, and considered it would be better to invest in the construction of a new building. That should have every citizen in this city consumed with anxiety. A new building? The mind, as they say, boggles. Not another of those dream palaces in a ‘bourgeois’ community ground, surely? The borrowing of a temporary boardroom (should that even be necessary, and that is not established) could be contemplated for the duration.
And if theoretically the council moves out, and in the meantime City Hall deteriorates even faster, what does the Chief Citizen think should be done to save it? Ah yes, a restoration fund apparently, which is the same proposal a previous mayor had put forward when the PPP/C was in office. Apart from displaying a certain lack of imagination, it is impractical and will not save City Hall.
At an early stage in the statutory meeting, as we had reported, the Mayor had told the council that the building was “structurally sound”, but just in need of repairs. So what repairs are these, one wonders, and who had identified them? Do they require expertise at some level, or do the pedestrian skills of the City Engineer’s Department suffice? And if repairs are all that is at issue at the moment, why on earth are the Mayor and Town Clerk talking about moving the council out of City Hall?
Will the powers that be in the municipality please tell the residents of Georgetown exactly what the options are. We have had a number of consultants here who have given advice, so what has been followed, and what has not, and why not? In December last year the M&CC signed a contract for the restoration of City Hall to be funded by the EU, but that will not be ready until the end of the year. In the meantime, what must be done to keep the edifice intact, and can sufficient work be accomplished to make it safe for Mayor and Councillors?
Furthermore, have the city’s officers, more particularly the City Engineer’s Department and the Town Clerk been tardy or negligent in carrying out renovations to portions of the building, which have made it possibly uninhabitable at present? Does it ‒ as mentioned above ‒ need more sophisticated attention than the City Engineer can provide? If so, let us get it. The citizens of Georgetown are tired of all this foolishness. Forget City Week, City Hall must be saved; that is the priority. Even if the Mayor, Town Clerk and a number of Councillors have no sense of the importance of the material heritage and lack a sense of historicism and aestheticism, they could at least imbibe some of the feeling from those who do have it, starting with their own President of the Republic.
If City Hall is reduced to a pile of dust and woodchips on Avenue of the Republic because of the philistinism of the present incumbents, or even if it stands in danger of mouldering away, it would be a cruel irony to even think about celebrating Georgetown’s birthday.