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Goodbye Election Day 2022, now let's talk

Connecting the Dots - Opinion
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A. Davison

Readers, you have all cast your vote. Right? The matter of caring for our town and country is now in the lap of those elected and paid (a stipend and per diems) to do it. I can see us dusting off our hands and turning away, unless you are one who wants to stay informed of what’s going on, not just criticize in the coffee shop.

What I’ve heard from numerous candidates, and even prior to campaign days, is the promise to run a more open, transparent council to include public participation of some sort, and certainly to keep us all informed about what’s going on. And rightly so. It’s taxpayer dollars they’re spending. Guess what, even provincial and federal grants are taxpayer money.

One council candidate noted that criticism comes when people feel cut out of decision-making.

Admittedly, there’s a ton of “opinion” floating around about what councillors are, or are not, doing. If you attended or watched recent candidate forums (RM of Pipestone, Virden), you would realize that most candidates are people like you, but - willing to be interrogated during election period. A humbling prospect. But that’s the whole idea. Councillors are community members, community minded, each with their own skill set.

Municipal staff, the CAO and their assistants are critical players in running a municipality. They are trained to understand how to get done what council wants done, and how to keep financial records.

I have no doubt that once settling into their seat around the council table, new councillors realize there are a lot of pre-determined paths that councils are forced down.

So back to the concern for transparency. This may ruffle the feathers of current councillors. Some incumbents say, ‘well the public never shows up to a council meeting. They don’t care.’

And that is true, the public doesn’t even attend financial plan presentations, as a rule. And it’s about how your money is going to be spent. Only if there’s a public hearing to determine if your fence line (for example) can be extended a teensy bit beyond setback requirements, then you will likely show up to advocate for yourself.

Councils and CAOs need to consider possible reasons the public doesn’t attend council meetings:

  • They don’t know what’s on the agenda for any given meeting. (Sometimes these are available on municipal websites just prior to meetings.)
  • They don’t know what big issues council is wrestling with (lobbying for clinic renovations, senior housing, medical staff, RCMP services, water or waste system, federal mandates, etc.).
  • They don’t know what effect they can have.

Council members, CAO, put yourself in a ratepayer’s seat - you know little of how council works, or what the ongoing issues are, but you drop in to a public meeting, or check out the minutes or maybe even dial into a YouTube recording.

Just for example: when item No. 11.1.1 is brought up with Resolution No: 22/444 - if discussion is minimal, maybe just a vote, well, what the heck was that about?

It’s valuable for newspapers to publish council minutes, or for municipal websites to provide a link, BUT the minutes are skeletal. (You have no idea if it’s a redhead or a bodybuilder you’re looking at, it’s just bones.)

Tuning in on Zoom or YouTube is an option, but the sound can be sketchy.

Council briefs in the paper will provide a reporter’s distillation of the business and the pertinent comments from members of council or the CAO (staff). That is an expensive report for a newspaper to regularly carry because of the time involved to follow the meetings and ask questions. But we do it to the best of our ability.

One other major concern that came out in one candidate forum I viewed, was the ‘committee of the whole’. These are usually for finance. When that is the case, the discussion and decisions are all made at the committee level. There is then no public meeting discussion required (unless the head of council or a councillor brings matters from the committee forward) before the rubber stamp comes out.

For ‘committee of the whole’ meetings, provide minutes, please.

We understand that councils go ‘in camera’ to discuss, legal, land and labour matters and that is never made public.

As new councils come to order in November, new committees will be constituted. It’s an ideal time to reconsider how to make council business accessible to the public. It’s also an ideal time for the public to put a hold on criticism, follow council in the newspapers, on YouTube or in person and find constructive ways to participate if you see a need.

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