Crazy times at county council
I’ve been covering council meetings for a few years now, from my time in various communities in Ontario to those in Central and Northern Nova Scotia, but I’ve never seen anything like what happened at Colchester County council Thursday night.
Before I get into that, there’s a bit of background information that needs to be discussed. A survey was sent out to municipalities across the province to gain a bit of insight into our local leaders. Colchester County council, as a group, decided they would not respond, citing a number of different issues from privacy concerns to questions that they felt had nothing to do with being a municipal councillor. This, of course, was brought to light when some of the results of the survey were released last weekend. It should also be noted the survey was part of the Chronicle Herald’s series called “How We Are Governed” and was tied to a team of journalism students from King’s College.
Enter ColchesterNEXT, who decided to take council to task Thursday night as to why they didn’t respond to the survey. The group, for those not familiar, is made up of volunteers of those mostly under 40 years of age, living in the Truro/Colchester Region, who want to get the younger generation more involved in what’s happening in our community and to find opportunities to meet local challenges.
From all indications, council did not want to have this discussion. Quinn McCarthy, who sat in front of council while four others from the group were in the audience, read a letter that had been submitted to the county before the meeting outlining who they were and then why council essentially ignored the survey. He wasn’t quite finished reading the letter when he was all but cut off by Mayor Bob Taylor.
And then it happened: council blew a gasket.
Councillor Tom Taggart began by saying ColchesterNEXT was way off the mark for criticizing council’s decision in the matter, adding the survey was about slander and selling newspapers. Councillor Karen MacKenzie said if someone wants to know about her, come to the meeting or Google her. Councillor Bill Masters boasted how council is likely the most transparent in the province and one of the best governed. Then came comments from Councilor Earl McKenna, incidentally McCarthy’s councilor, who said if there were any issues, McCarthy should have come to see him directly. Council then questioned how many of the ColchesterNEXT-ers present had attended a council meeting. All of them raised their hands, but council grumbled about that with some saying, “Well, I’ve never seen them here.”
McCarthy, who sat as cool as I’ve ever seen from someone being brow-beaten, was given a history lesson on how well council is run, stories from councillors about how close they are to the community, and so on. All of this missed the point, of course, which was to find out why council said “no” to the survey. At no point was council bashed for doing what they did, apart from McCarthy saying ColchesterNEXT was “surprised and disappointed” in council’s decision.
The resounding message, in as angry a tone as I’ve heard in some time, was that if you want to know about council, show up. ColchesterNEXT did and this is what happened. The above councilors all said they wished nothing but the best for what ColchesterNEXT is trying to do, and admitted the survey issue is a touchy topic for them. The later admission seemed to come grudgingly.
There were a few voices of reason, namely Councillors Christine Blair and Jimmie LeFrense, who gave calm, level-headed responses. They said there were concerns with privacy, some of the questions were intrusive, and some had nothing to do with what council does. I haven’t seen the survey, so I take them at their word. Councillor MacKenzie said one question was asking the most exotic place they’d visited. Alright, that’s a bit silly, but was it worth blowing up at a council meeting?
Presentations at a council meeting aren’t a question and answer period from the presenter, but ColchesterNEXT was still allowed to be on the docket. They knew the question of “why?” was coming and this was their response? All that had to be done was to thank the group for their presentation, for their question and explain the points as Councillors Blair and LeFrense did as calmly as they did. It didn’t happen and for the life of me I can’t understand, well, why.