Thursday, July 18, 2013

Transparency is no longer welcomed at Springwater Township Meetings

I believe the conduct at the Springwater Township is moving to a new time low. We hear the criticism all the time on tightly controlled members of the Harper government. People don’t necessarily agree with me, but I have no problem as it is a party system. On the other hand local councils are to be made up of independently thinking representatives. Not so at Springwater.

This council is on a move to gag opposition both within and outside the council. There are two councilors who are very concerned about the negative impact of the mega developments proposed for Midhurst. Kate Harries filed a complaint with the Closed Session Investigator and it was found that the meeting where the two councilors were berated for publishing articles on a regular basis in the newspaper was not properly conducted. Councillors have every right to address and inform the public as long as they make it clear that unless repeating a council decision they state that they speak on their own behalf and not as council. Politicians do that every day. After that attack one councilor was quite shaken and stopped including comments in the local community section of the newspaper. The other councilor has proceeded as usual.
At the July 15th Council meetings there were two disturbing matters.

The first was a change in the Procedural Bylaw. Effectively they want to lengthen the period for people to give notice of a deputation, they want to reduce the notice periods for most meetings by 50% and they want to restrict the question period to only matters on the agenda. By the way they have already reduced the number of council meetings by 50%.

Also on the agenda was an extremely draconian proposal. It is effectively a pro-SLAPP suit bylaw. The last phrase is the most frightening, “Notwithstanding our unbridled support of stakeholders, where a stakeholder publishes slanderous unsubstantiated innuendo suggesting wrongdoing by elected and Township Officials, that were unsupported allegations and innuendo or wrong doing is distributed or published, that the Township engage legal services to seek relief from such irresponsible behavior, such as but not limited to authorities and the Courts”. It then goes on further to propose that the township spend money to pay legal services to provide comment on how they can apply the Libel and Slander Act. Sounds intimidating to me! The Notice of Motion was tabled by Councillor Webster and seconded by Deputy Mayor Dan McLean and was received. It will be on the next agenda for discussion and ruling and I suspect will pass unless saner heads prevail.

Here are the questions I posed of Mayor Collins and Councillor Webster at the meeting:

Question to Mayor Collins as Head of Council related to Item Agenda item 7.7: Since council has reduced the access at council meetings by 50% by having only once a month meetings.

Part 1- Is the procedural bylaw not just a guise to further reduce public comment by restricting comments in question period and reducing notice periods for delegations by 3 days and meeting notices from 48 to 24 hours which makes it more difficult to participate in the public forum?

Part 2 - Will council consider deferring this new procedural bylaw to allow councilors to properly consider what the clerk suggests are “refined” when in fact are significant changes and consider a public meeting as this is a paradigm shift on transparency?

Part 3 - Since the council is to further the business of the municipality possibly the mayor can explain how these restrictions assist in the promise of transparency that you all profess to support?

Collins responded to Part 2 and said there have been discussions and that changes will be made. No other responses however.
Question to Councillor Webster related to Agenda Item 11: Before my question a clarification please. Who seconded this motion to get it on the agenda in accordance with section 8.12.1 of the current bylaw? (Note: According to the Procedural Bylaw this was an incorrectly accepted motion as it was not signed by the seconder)

Since libel, slander and defamation are covered by provincial and federal statutes why would the township attempt to duplicate laws by passing an unnecessary bylaw that will cost the township taxpayers money to respond to the possible hurt feelings of a councilor who may be unkindly dealt with in the media which is private matter not a council issue?

Part 1- Is this not an attempt to introduce pro SLAPP suit control in our bylaws while the province has recently passed legislation to minimize the use of these strategic lawsuits against public participation as such actions on the part of large companies and institutions has been recognized as bullying and intimidation?

Part 2 - Is this motion not contrary to the transparency that this council professes?

Part 3 - Why should we as taxpayers be paying to gag the comments of the taxpayers that you think are uncomplimentary?

Part 4 - Will Councillor Webster withdraw his motion which is a draconian proposal that would find a better place in Iraq or Libya or some third world despot ruled nation? 

Webster did not respond. The fact that the Notice of Motion was tabled and received suggests he is not withdrawing it but he could very well do so at the next council meeting which I hope he does.

I wish that was the end of the craziness, but no! Unexpectedly Deputy Mayor McLean on a Point of Order read a long speech on the creation of two resident groups in the Midhurst area. Apparently at the last Planning Meeting there were some unexpected changes to members and Councillor Hanna and McConkey spoke strongly against it. At some point McConkey questioned the ethics of the motion but did not direct the comment at anyone specifically according to a number of people I have spoken to as I could not attend that meeting. McLean’s Point of Order demanded that McConkey retract the statement. After some 40 minute recess and a closed meeting with McConkey, Mayor Collins and the Clerk, McConkey refused to retract any statement as she felt she had not directly accused McLean of being unethical which is the premise of his Point of Order. The Mayor (acting as Judge and Juror which she is entitled to do) then ejected McConkey and told her she could not return to council until she retracted the statement. The Mayor, I think by accident, said McConkey must apologize but that is not what McLean requests in his written statement. Talk about bullying and intimidation! I checked and no one knew that McLean was going to table this non-agenda Point of Order. I have requested information on whether McLean’s Point of Order wording was coached by either township staff or paid legal services and at this point have received no response.

People and constituents must start attending local council and planning meetings or councils will veer off in tangents that are not beneficial to anyone. I believe for the most part our councilors and elected officials are good honest people. But sometimes there develops a “group think” mentality that is dangerous to all stakeholders including those elected officials that institute matters of this nature.

You need to start paying attention as in the case of Springwater this council is travelling in a much more disturbing direction than the last. That my friends is frightening.

I understand that Councilor McConkey may attend the July 22 Planning Meeting at 5:30 at the Township Administration Centre on Nursery Road and ask to be reinstated with an apology. I encourage anyone reading this to come out and show that the public will no longer tolerate heavy handed actions by senior elected officials.