"I think it's a stab in the back to Paul Johnson, if he weren't cremated, I'd say he's turning over in his grave,"
- Addison Bown - Executive Officer GCA
Tough times make for tough choices. The City of St. John's budget woes continue to reverberate as necessary belt tightening impacts community organizations, home owners and business owners.
The hullabaloo in the wake of budget cuts to the Grand Course Authority were intensified by the emotional response of the GCA authority and the late founder's son.
I can not argue with the Mayor when he asks why the residents of the City of St. John's must continue to pay the costs for maintaining the 160 km trail and related monuments, including sites that may not "technically" be in it's jurisdiction.
I also can not argue with him about wanting to get the best bang for the taxpayers buck for maintenance of city monuments and properties.
The city has to look at every expenditure, big and small to determine if tax payers are getting value for their investment.
The emotional reaction from Mr. Bown and Mr. Johnson's son should not have come as any surprise to the mayor. I can not help but feel his emotional response was disingenuous and hot headed.
His call for Bown's resignation, or immediate firing, illustrates how out of touch our mayor is with the great legacy of Mr. Johnson. Is this not the same O'Keefe who used his position of mayor to ensure that the Gazebo in Bannerman Park be preserved because he had so many wonderful teenage memories of it! Since when does such emotion have a role in the city's public financing?
Having established the mayor's hypocrisy, naivety and his role as the guardian of the public purse, let me move on to the late Mr. Johnson. He was (and continues to be) one of our province's greatest philanthropist.
There is hardly a community, cove or site of historical significance in this province that has not benefited from his generosity in the form of a grant, the use of staff's planning expertise or the provision of an interpretation board. To say he was a giant amongst men is an understatement.
I knew Mr. Johnson as an acquaintance and professionally. He was a passionate gentleman in both roles. He was concerned not so much about his own legacy but the future of the incredible projects he had been instrumental in creating.
He knew he would not live for ever. Even while he was alive the issues related to the ongoing costs and maintenance of of the trail network, the Railway Museum, the Geo Center and many monuments bothered him. Yes, the province, the city and at times government agencies assisted in creating his great vision but often there were disputes about who would pay for maintenance in the long run. Let me say one thing, with out his vision and his money, none of the other actors would have come to the table. It was Mr. Johnson's money that unlocked everything else.
I recall a very testy, and yes Dennis - emotional, exchange wth Mr. Johnson in 2001 in the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Recreation Minister's boardroom over legacy funding for monuments and trail maintenance on government properties.
His staff and government officials had come to an impasse regarding promised support for the Geo Center and trails along Confederation Hill. and Pippy Park.
Mr. Johnson demanded a meeting with the Premier and the Minister. He had pitched a major upgrade of trails including a realignment of existing monuments. All he wanted from the province was an assurance that it would maintain the trails and the monuments. Our officials were weary of accepting any new costs, particularly committing future generations. There was more discord than agreement.
My thoughts, as Senior Policy Advisor, were that Mr. Johnston was being very generous. He was offering to beauty, enhance and promote our heritage. All he asked was that we maintain it once it was built. I could feel the strain, disbelief and concern. He had great concerns about what would happen to these investments once he was gone.
I am confident, based on my discussions with him, that these types of conversations occurred with the City of St. John's and other organizations. The founder and his staff were very emotionally vested in protecting his great contribution to ensuring his contributions assist in the development of healthy, vibrant and just communities where individuals, families and the next generation of leaders could thrive.
For Mayor O'Keefe to suggest that the comments made by those closest to protecting this legacy were abominable, out of line and totally reprehensible just illustrates how out of touch he is. Mr. Johnson went to his grave in the hopes this legacy would be protected. I am sure if he would be turning over in his grave given the cuts and attacks on the foundations "financial integrity". Mr. O'Keefe delivered the ultimate disrespect to an incredible legacy.
Axing support for maintenance around city properties and cutting funds for winter grooming only makes the job of maintaining the legacy even harder. To borrow a few words from the mayor that is “totally out of line, totally reprehensible, totally abominable.”
The city is destroying the spirit of Mr. Johnson's legacy of cooperation and making this a wonderful city to visit and reside in.