Normally Council meetings happen on a Monday but that was a Family Day Holiday this time around so it was an odd couple of meetings on an odd day.
It started with a Committee Of The Whole meeting in the morning and you could tell it was going to be different because of all the extra bodies in the gallery. Normally on COTW days there might extra city staff there because of department reports but, unless they are with a delegation, you usually don’t see the public there. This time … a dozen or more showed up in the morning. Like the last meeting these people were here to voice their appeal to put the brakes on the Residential Water Metering Program and put it to referendum. They got to ask questions about 1:45 into the meeting when an update on the process was given. They came back in larger numbers for the Regular meeting later where they had an official delegation. They had a petition with hundreds of signatures that they’d hoped to present to council.
First – the events of the COTW:
- Staff Sergeant Jim Harrison gave the 2013 Annual Report on Policing Boundary Regional Detachment.
- Habitat for Humanity’s Rick Friesen gave an update on current status of the Multi Agency Accommodation Project (MAAP) and proposed changes.
- The Rotary Club’s Lynne Burch gave a presentation on a proposed construction of a Children’s Spray Park in City Park.
- James Wilson of the Boundary Country Regional Chamber of Commerce (BCRCC) gave a presentation on a proposed collaboration that would result in a funding from Grand Forks business licenses revenues in an ongoing contract to provide fees for services.
- Did you know Happy Days 50’s Diner has a liquor licence application? They do.
- And that the city is considering closing a portion of 81st Avenue and to consolidate that portion with Lot 18, Plan 25445 located north of 8091 Pineview Crescent? They are.
There were the department reports. And a letter from the Fall Fair Society. The CAO and CFO gave the Capital Budget presentation for the Financial Plan 2014-2018 Capital Requests. That’s talking about where your money will be spent in the next 4 years … but it seemed that all the ‘public’ cared about was the update on the Residential Water Metering Project.
COTW Meeting Feb 11, 2014
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Here is the council meeting. Listen to what is said. Read between the lines. Exercise your critical thinking. Do your own research.
Oh – it has been stated over and over again but people seem to not understand: The city is NOT selling you water. What you pay for is the cost of the delivery system to pump, treat and distribute that water to you. The diHydrogen Oxide is free.
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The Regular Meeting continued the ‘odd’ aspect in a number of ways. First – it was on a Tuesday as mentioned before, Second – it was at 3PM instead of 7PM (so the councilors could attend an RDKB meeting) and Third – I saw something happen that I have never seen in my 8 years attending council meetings: The Mayor Adjourned the meeting in the middle because he felt he could not control the meeting.
Specifically when one of the members of the public refused to stand down after being informed he could only ask one question at a time. In normal question period this is not the case but this was anything but normal. It wasn’t question period and council had voted to extend extra courtesy and time to the delegation as well as allowing multiple people from the group to ask questions (normally it’s the one or two that go to the podium). They had doubled the time to 20 minutes presentation and 20 minutes questions. By the time of this altercation they used up over an hour. After the small adjournment they still got 15 minutes more time.
After all that council did not vote on halting the process and going to referendum. One councilor made the motion but none would second it.
Once their issue had been dealt with they left the room, albeit slowly and noisily. I’m going to editorialize here a bit because it’s this aspect of our ‘democratic process’ that leaves me wondering.
We have a group of citizens who have decided that they do not agree with something that city council is doing. And they want to be heard and, if possible, have their wishes come true. But … this program is the end result of 15 years of process. Public process. Which anyone from the public could attend, track, learn about, ask questions about and give input on.
I cannot say I have been at every public meeting and town-hall meeting and study publication presentation but I can say that I’ve been to more city council meetings than some on council. With one or two misses I have been to every city council meeting since 2006. And with few exceptions I haven’t seen most of these people at any of these meetings. I hardly ever see anybody from the public show up to monitor was goes on with city council. And ask questions. In a town of nearly 5000 souls I can probably count on one hand the ones that have shown up just to do that.
Yet I hear the public complain and criticize council for things that they are doing. Or that they think they are doing. And you know something? Often the public gets it wrong. Simply because they do not know how government works – but think they do. And that often causes them to blame city hall for things that city hall has no control over. Accuse them of things that they are not doing or responsible for.
In this last instance of public angst I have seen the CAO accused of saying the voting public is not informed enough to make an informed decision at a referendum on a question like the residential water meter program. That’s not what he said but I can understand how that could be construed from his words. Then I see the mayor and council trying to point out that you the public ARE informed enough. They point at all the public engagement and published information over the past 15 years that have led to this as an example of the extent of your ‘informativeness’.
This is my take: The majority of the voting public is willfully ignorant. Not informed at all.
Ignorant means you ignore what is there. You can come to the meetings. Participate. Watch it on the web. Well over 90% of you DO NOT.
This project, as the CAO has pointed out, is long term, multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. It’s not ‘simple’ but the public acts like it sees it so. From the lack of knowledge, the mistaken ideas, the fears inspired by ‘fringe pseudo science’ (with a paranoid delusion thrown in for good measure) it’s clear that many, if not most, would NOT make an informed decision. They would be making a decision based on their fears and misconceptions. Or, worse, those of someone else.
I’m not trying to paint all of you with the same brush but I’ve seen ALL that in just the last two meetings. I also see what could be valid worries such as will the sewage rate be tied to the water rate. Decisions like that are made by council. This council cannot promise you that a future council will not do that. They cannot prevent that from happening. But you can. You can run for council and have a vote. OR you can work towards having an informed and educated council AND voting population. We all live here but you’d think that many of us just abide here. Get involved and we can all prosper for it. Stay uninvolved and we’ll all suffer for it.
I’m under no illusions that my words will be taken in the light I wish them to be. That some may be unhappy or even angry at my stance is a likelihood. That is your right – in a democracy we have the right to state our minds and to object to what others say. I’m participating in the democratic process here. I’m trying to help you all participate too. Come down and help us all is all I ask.
NOTE: Nowhere on this page will you find my opinion on residential water meters.
– Les Johnson