Local governance is often not a pleasant business when you have to deal with constituents’ complaints and problems. People as a whole can be unreasonable and unpleasant when talking about the minutia which bother them in their daily lives. Maybe it’s that neighbour’s dog is too loud. Or someone’s tree overhangs my property. Or my garbage isn’t getting picked up in a timely manner.
A million things which can be pet peeves to some and major irritants to others.
Inevitably once reasonable discussion and neighbourly decorum break down these problems end of in the lap of town administrators, and, if they really devolve, in the lap of town council itself.
It ain’t easy standing in the fire of a local issue. It ain’t easy being the people who have to make the calls at the end of day. Someone is likely going to be the loser in the decision-making process, and the odds are they are not going to be happy about it and “go gentle into that good night.”
However, that’s the job local municipal officials are paid to do and what elected officials are put in office to handle on behalf of the community.
Which brings us to last week’s decision on the Redcliff town council’s part to restrict access to delegates coming before council who might have an ax to grind with the municipal decision-making process.
Much of the reason for this “Communications with Litigants” bylaw seems to be centred around specific individuals who council members find unreasonable or insufferably rude. The question must be asked: Is that a good reason to bring in a bylaw amendment which could have serious long term consequences for the citizens of a community just to deal with the irritant of today?
The bylaw amendment, for example, allows the municipal manager of the community to decide on his own discretion whether a litigant is allowed to be heard by council or not. If a case is before the courts the argument could be made this is good risk management on the part of the community.
But where the proposed bylaw change becomes much more questionable is when it states the municipal manager can make this decision on the basis of a “potential commencement” of a lawsuit. So, in effect, saying if the municipal manager believes, even if there is no lawsuit before the court, there might potentially be one, he or she can turn a delegation down without referring to council.
Some of those potential indications? Among those listed are: a citizens’ petition, a Freedom of Information request or a communication from the Minister of Municipal Affairs.
Petitions have long been considered a valid means for citizens to make their voices heard to a community’s leadership. Why is this normal practice now going to be considered, by the wording of the current amendment, a potential lawsuit which warrants council possibly barring a delegation from being heard?
Similarly Freedom of Information requests are standard practice among the local media and interested citizens who want access to in camera information. A so-called FOIP request is deemed an essential tool to hold a government accountable for decisions, and the reasons behind them, they might not want to disclose publicly.
And a phone call or communication from Municipal Affairs? Something like that likely happens on a near daily basis in many communities.
None of these have ever before been deemed the first step toward a potential lawsuit, just routine communications and practices when matters of disagreement arise between various parties.
While it is manifestly apparent no one, including elected officials, should be bullied, berated or abused by outside parties… And council is quite right in this instance to insist on a certain decorum while coming before them to state your case… The concern here is the open interpretation of the wording in the amendment could lead to potential abuse and transparency issues down the road if they are applied as stated.
It feels somewhat like the equivalent of using a shotgun to deal with the annoying fly of today without regard to the damage the pellets might do to the wall behind it when the trigger is pulled.