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Barbecue politics?



"We're having those awkward discussions in public," said Mayor Carrier in a year-end interview published in the Enterprise-Bulletin, January 4, 2008, "whereas in the past a lot of it was maybe talked about at a barbecue, or talked about over a drink, or talked about moreso in a closed meeting."

At a barbecue?

I'm not sure what social events the mayor attended when he was just a councillor - I seem to recall he refused to socialize with the rest of council throughout the last term - but barbecues weren't among them. I wasn't invited to any of any of those political barbecues he alludes to. Nor, to the best of my knowledge, was the rest of council. Those "barbecues" may exist more in his imagination than in reality.

I never once got invited to any such social/lobbying events hosted by any special interest group, let alone developers. I never attended a single barbecue, either - although I can't speak for others. But even if I had, what could one councillor do to sway the events at the table where nine vote? As far as I know, no council initiative, plan, or bylaw came about from any "barbecue" discussion.

I do recall many of us at the table - including some staff and the former mayor - would get together after some of our council meetings for a drink or even a late dinner, but political issues were never discussed. We assiduously avoided politics and stuck to chat about film, sports, family, books, history, travel, pets... everything but local politics. Of course since the current mayor never joined us, he probably wouldn't know that. So who was he talking about?

Why, I wonder, does the mayor seem to remain suspicious of our past socializing after a council meeting? Maybe that's the reason these meetings last so damn long - so we won't have the energy or time to socialize after them. Who knows what mischief we might get up to if we chat about the latest CSI episode or talk about family dinners? Or - Gods forfend - we might have a laugh! And you KNOW that having a laugh means we're plotting some dastardly deed!

Okay, let's be serious. I really think the previous mayor and council were being insulted by our current mayor's comments (and remember most of us at the table now were on that former council). The former council is being made to look secretive and sneaky - and a bit of mudslinging at the former mayor in particular. It was a not-very-subtle dig, suggesting this council is being more "open, accountable and transparent" (slogan copyright the New Collingwood Government...) than the former council.

Malarkey. It isn't. Quite the opposite, from my perspective.

There have been a LOT of in camera, closed-door meetings this past year in which this council discussed and debated issues but when the time came to bring it to the public, arrived merely as an opaque motion or vote without any of the discussion or dialogue - let alone the inappropriate comments better suited for the public forum that were nonetheless voiced behind closed doors. I believe there have been more and longer in camera meetings with this council than in the same time for the last council. Those "awkward discussions" are not being held in public.

So any suggestion this council is more open and transparent than the last one is horse patooey. Self-serving, self-aggrandizing horse patooey at that.

And so is taking credit for things the previous council started - the new buses, the pesticide bylaw, the new Library, the Sesquicentennial celebrations among them. This current council's claim to fame rests in a cat tag bylaw, an avaricious user fee to investigate our in camera meetings, the repeal of legal and democratically approved permits for a downtown development, the approval of unsustainable commercial sprawl and the lowering of highway speed limits without public input. Hardly things I think we should want to be known for, but there they are. Read 'em and weep.

"Wow, democracy isn't that bad," the mayor commented about our lengthy meetings. Democracy is not a word frequently used in the same sentence as anything to do with this current council. Obfuscatory, dictatorial, autocratic - yes - but not democratic. Democracy isn't what makes these meetings run five or six hours.

This is the same council that forced me - a member of this board of directors - to file a Freedom of Information Act request to get information about legal fees to make them public to taxpayers who funded these legal challenges and the consultants (the mayor was among those who voted to try and hide these figures). Where's the "democracy" in that?

This council voted to charge residents $125 to file a request to have the appropriateness of our in camera meetings investigated, basically saying only the rich can afford to buy the right to examine our behaviour. Transparent? Accountable? Think again...

This council voted to change highway speed limits that affect thousands of people without allowing any public input, let alone hold a public meeting on the issue. Now there's real openness, eh?

This is the same mayor who ordered an audit of councillors' emails in the first weeks of his term, then tried to defend his actions when we found out.

He was right, however: democracy isn't bad. In fact it's wonderful, but it ain't here. Maybe we should try it. Maybe we will, next term.

And as for the "insulting behaviour" on the Internet he accuses us of in the interview - that's clearly a shot at me and this blog. Well, the mayor has taken the opportunity several times in the past to publicly belittle and insult me, so this gibe doesn't sting. During the election, I promised I would keep people informed, let people know where I stood and why I voted as I did - not just my supporters but everyone. Perhaps he thinks it's insulting for me to express myself, to speak my mind and to keep the residents informed. Maybe it's my acerbic sense of humour he dislikes.

When I think of insulting behaviour, I think of the way the mayor shrugged off a petition by 2,500 residents last spring. Or how he dismissed the concerns about sprawl and uncontrolled growth made by Councillor Foley and myself because we are not "experts." Or the way the mayor interrupted my comments about workers in that commercial sprawl having no available housing to accuse me of not supporting affordable housing (and in doing so made public the results of an in camera meeting). Or calling a local reporter an "e-media wannabe."

I'm sure he'd be a lot happier if I - and all the local media and e-media wannabees - could be silenced. Then there would be no one to challenge his claim of being more "open, accountable and transparent" than the former council. Just like General De Gaulle...

Back in the 1960s, Charles De Gaulle changed the constitution of France and had laws passed to protect himself from criticism. The state controlled the media and censors made sure the General was only praised. De Gaulle made it an offence subject to fines of up to $20,000 to be critical of his rule or his actions. He refused demands for reform and sued or persecuted his detractors. His politics of grandeur eventually led to the uprising and student riots of May, 1968 and his deposal in 69. I personally don't think De Gaulle is a good role model for municipal politics, but sometimes the similarities with this current administration are uncanny... or maybe I'm confusing it with the Sun King's regime...





I note in the agenda for Counci's January 7th meeting that there is a motion to proceed in Camera to dicuss personal matters relating to (a) Committee appointments and (B) Fire Department Issure.

I believe it would be appropriate to inquire how either of these matters is a "personal matter" effecting any Collingwood resident. In an open democracy a Committee appointment should be open for discussion in publc and there should be nothing personal about it. Similarly, the Fire Department Issue presumably relates to contracts and wages and is not a personal issue to any individual.

I trust the the new Ontario Municipal Regulations concerning in Camera meetings, which kicked in on January 1st, will be respected.

Again, I suggest you question this motion when it is presented as it is debatable. And, when the vote on the motion is taken, request that it be recorded and vote against it. Should the motion pass, you can still participate in the in Camera meeting even though you voted against it. Or you might declare a conflict of interest and not participate in the in camera meeting.

I am now visiting a small community south of Melbourne Australia about the size of Collingwood where there are strict rules for in Camera meetings.

Dick Hill
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Ian Chadwick
Jan 16 2008 02:37 PM

I note in the agenda for Counci's January 7th meeting that there is a motion to proceed in Camera to dicuss personal matters relating to (a) Committee appointments and (B) Fire Department Issure.

I believe it would be appropriate to inquire how either of these matters is a "personal matter" effecting any Collingwood resident. In an open democracy a Committee appointment should be open for discussion in publc and there should be nothing personal about it. Similarly, the Fire Department Issue presumably relates to contracts and wages and is not a personal issue to any individual.


Dick:
While I can't talk about the details of the meeting, I can assure you that these issues were allowable under the Municipal Act. There are some general/generic components that always come up - in committee appointments for example when we're discussing terms, number of appointees, etc. but these are necessary to help us make our decisions on who to appoint based on the resumes provided. Since "identifiable individuals" are discussed, we can do it in camera. We make the appointments in public, just don't discuss the individuals .

While the calibre of the candidates is generally very high, and we're usually very impressed by the quality of applicants, I don't think it's wise to discuss relative merits of one over another in public, nor should we discuss those who don't get appointed because it would appear that they were in some way unworthy. In most cases it's very difficult to make our choice(s) because the candidates are all so good! I would not want it to become a popularity contest argued in public.

As for labour and contracts - that gets a bit dicey because until a contract is agreed upon by both sides, it fits under the "legal counsel" provision. Besides, we have already been chastised for carrying out labour negotiations in public (the presentation of a staff report about the negotiations with the firefighters while the arbitration process was still in play). We will ratify any contract in public, of course. But in this case it was more properly a "personnel" issue rather than a contractual negotiation.

Of course any citizen can file a request for an investigation, but since we've priced it at an oppressively high amount, only the rich can enjoy that privilege. Funny thing - I heard the province would have done it for free so there would be no need to charge residents for finding out if we're doing our job the right way... but that would require us to be "open, accountable and transparent"...
Ian:

As a former Inuvik Councillor and Mayor I appreciate the sensitivity of in Camera discussions. However, Collingwood Council's main problem with in Camera meetings is public perception. Many residents believe the Collingwood Council is far from transparent.

Here in Australia the Mornington Peninsula Council covers the in Camera situation with a regulation saying that only 'personnel' matters may be discussed in Camera. They handle committee and other appointments through recommendations of a committee.

Cheers, Dick

I note in the agenda for Counci's January 7th meeting that there is a motion to proceed in Camera to dicuss personal matters relating to (a) Committee appointments and (B) Fire Department Issure.

I believe it would be appropriate to inquire how either of these matters is a "personal matter" effecting any Collingwood resident. In an open democracy a Committee appointment should be open for discussion in publc and there should be nothing personal about it. Similarly, the Fire Department Issue presumably relates to contracts and wages and is not a personal issue to any individual.


Dick:
While I can't talk about the details of the meeting, I can assure you that these issues were allowable under the Municipal Act. There are some general/generic components that always come up - in committee appointments for example when we're discussing terms, number of appointees, etc. but these are necessary to help us make our decisions on who to appoint based on the resumes provided. Since "identifiable individuals" are discussed, we can do it in camera. We make the appointments in public, just don't discuss the individuals .

While the calibre of the candidates is generally very high, and we're usually very impressed by the quality of applicants, I don't think it's wise to discuss relative merits of one over another in public, nor should we discuss those who don't get appointed because it would appear that they were in some way unworthy. In most cases it's very difficult to make our choice(s) because the candidates are all so good! I would not want it to become a popularity contest argued in public.

As for labour and contracts - that gets a bit dicey because until a contract is agreed upon by both sides, it fits under the "legal counsel" provision. Besides, we have already been chastised for carrying out labour negotiations in public (the presentation of a staff report about the negotiations with the firefighters while the arbitration process was still in play). We will ratify any contract in public, of course. But in this case it was more properly a "personnel" issue rather than a contractual negotiation.

Of course any citizen can file a request for an investigation, but since we've priced it at an oppressively high amount, only the rich can enjoy that privilege. Funny thing - I heard the province would have done it for free so there would be no need to charge residents for finding out if we're doing our job the right way... but that would require us to be "open, accountable and transparent"...

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