End of an Era

10 years ago I began broadcasting the Grand Forks City Council meetings on cable TV. Over time this has changed from live on cable TV to live / on-demand on the Internet and watchable later on Cable TV.

Well all that comes to and end with the next council meetings, which will be my last.

I have resigned from my position. I quit, no one fired me or pressured me in to quitting (though that has been attempted in the recent past).

The impetus for this decision stems from my most recent video and posting. It was an angry, ill-conceived, single take reaction to anger I felt. After fighting on facebook for most of the week with the vocal supporters of Councilor Butler and being blamed for all of her problems and told I should be paying everyone’s legal bills I reacted badly to the Mayor’s behaviour and portrayal on CBC radio. He didn’t deserve the vitriol and anger … well not so much. He did deserve to have his say and I didn’t give him that and for that I also apologize.

The fact that I reacted so strongly and wrongly gave me pause to reflect on what I am doing, why and how.

I’m a volunteer. Sure they give me an honorarium but I’ve costed it out and I cannot replace the equipment for the amount I get. Effectively speaking it costs me money and time to do the volunteer job I have been performing. I’m a volunteer. I consider it an honour and privilege to to have been able to serve my community in the way for the last 10 years.

Once I came out in from of the camera to take a stand on an issue I became a target. I’ve blissfully existed with only an occasional inkling that there are people out there who wanted me gone from that position. Now I’m hearing it went on for longer than I knew and involved more people than I knew. But I’ve also found out that people have stood up for me without telling me or asking for anything in return. I have Enemies and Champions. All over taking a stand.

When I take a stand and make public statements I face the same scrutiny as anyone else in the public eye. I also have to watch what I say, how I say it and the words I use. If the Mayor or a councilor mis-speak they have our support in the form of tax dollars paying their legal bills. I have no such support – I could face financial ruin for a little mistake.

Well my detractors can now do their happy dance. They have gotten their way and I’m gone from the council chambers. Or am I?


Here is the text of my notice of resignation:

It is with mixed emotions that I tender my resignation from the position I hold of broadcasting the City Council meetings.

After 10 years I’ve come to a point where I can’t stop my feelings from interfering and I know it’s time to step back. My recent video should serve as an example. The anger outshone the humour. By a large margin.

That doesn’t do anybody any good.

I’ve felt honoured to serve my community in this capacity. In the last decade I’ve watched and listened as our elected officials governed our community. They’ve been a mix of humans. And humans are complex creatures – there’s things to like and things to dislike in all of them.

For years I stood behind the camera saying nothing about what was going on except to try and get council and the public to pay more attention to each other. Then I offered humour and a bit of a conscience. It was good. Then the water meter issue became the major distraction. I had my wish – a sector of the population had come down and virtually camped out in the gallery. All over a single issue.

I still managed to remain neutral until the idiots and idiotic ideas began crowding out reason. Then the paranoid beliefs crept in and with the last election it looked like partisan politics had come to our town in the guise of grass roots push back. So I stepped out in front of the camera. At first to try to introduce some reason and balance into the process, later to try and stop what I saw as a process of self-destructiveness. I was so naïve … the community picked sides and one of them picked me and I found myself on a side group which has become reviled for taking a stand. And since I’m the only self identified member of that group I get to wear the hair shirt that political attack dogs drape over me. I’ve been the subject of behind the scenes and public campaigns to have me removed from the position of council webcaster. Orchestrated by a member of council I’m told.

Last summer I did some costing and found that every meeting costs me nearly $40 more than the $50 I get as an honorarium. By that I mean that I don’t make enough to cover the cost of replacing the equipment I use to do the job I do. Which, since 2011, has been all my own equipment. Many of you have seen the mass of things I have to bring, set up, and take down for every meeting. (The last council meeting took less time than my setup time) Well if any of the expensive stuff breaks I cannot afford to replace it unless I go into debt.

Last weekend I put together a small video where I called on the Mayor to resign his seat. It even surprised me with it’s angry content. And it’s a warning indicator on the dash board saying I’m over heating and I should do something about it. No one should take it as license to bring weapons down to city hall and attack anyone. Use your words please.

One of the things I find disconcerting about our current Mayor is his tendency to shoot from the hip when his emotions get the better of him. It’s something I’m prone to myself. When the Mayor does it we all backstop his words – if he says something wrong that brings legal eagles down on our necks we all pay for it. I have no backstop. If I say the wrong thing, turn a phrase the wrong way, I could lose my house. I’m a pensioner with part time work and now I have enemies in the community who’ve showed a penchant for going after people’s jobs. Try finding a job in your 60s.

Back when I began this position there was an argument between my employer and city hall. It ultimately cost me my job and the incumbent mayor re-election. But even back then I realized that 10 or 15 years later we’ll still have to live and work together so making enemies would be counter productive. I can proudly say that I can chat and joke with the mayor and council members from that time.

Now … it’s not the same at all. The political arena in this town has taken on nasty overtones and whether it’s just me or others I’m afraid I cannot make the same statement. I worry that a decade from now something I’m involved in might suffer because somebody holds animosity to me.

I’ve been involved in a number of things in the community – some I initiated and others I’m just a part of. I’ve tried to be a community booster. I won’t stop that but I won’t see any of it blunted and frustrated by small minded people with vendettas. So it’s time to go.

To the members of council – I wish you luck. I have respect for most of you for taking on a tough job for the right reasons. I hope you do your jobs well – I’m still a taxpayer here so I have a vested interest in that. Even if I wasn’t I have friends here and I wish the community a functional council.

To the community at large – You’re just going to miss me when I’m gone. For a while and then you’ll move on with your lives. Please, please don’t turn your backs on council. An informed and aware populace is a requirement of a functioning community. When you ignore them until they’re doing something you don’t like we get fiascos like the recent one.

To those who would consider themselves my enemy – I’m not going anywhere.

Some can take this as sour grapes – that’s their choice. I just think it’s my time to go.

There is a native story about two wolves struggling inside of all us, the good and the bad. When the child asks its elder which one wins the answer is ‘the one you feed the most’. In this last year I feel that the community and me have been feeding the wrong one too much. It’s time for balance …

Best of luck to all of you / us.

  • Les Johnson
  • Mar 9, 2016

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