Council had one public meeting on Nov 25.
It might have been one of their shorter meetings but they asked me to open my mouth . . .
In the question period you hear part of a conversation I started with councilors before the meeting began. I hadn’t really wanted to go over it in the question period, you can hear me say ‘I really don’t want to pour gasoline on a fire‘, but gave in to the prompting to.
I’ll try to expound on this in a future post but the gist of it goes something like this:
Council meets in Publicly announced meetings.
Some of these the public can attend and some they cannot – but all meetings of council where decisions are made are announced publicly. There are rules governing that.
If a number of councilors meet outside of a normal meeting and discuss council business it is problematic when their number reaches a quorum of council (4 in the case of ours).
They are then conducting council (taxpayer) business out of view and out of hearing of the public with no public notice.
That is a big no-no which can lead to actions from the Ministry if they. council, cannot justify it.
When a councilor has an interest over and above a normal public involvement in something that council will be deliberating on they are supposed to recuse themselves from deliberating and voting on the topic when it comes before council. They might be in a club asking for support from council. Or live in proximity to something being developed. Or have a business affected by council’s decisions.
This is to prevent a Conflict Of Interest or the perception of a COI.
It’s to protect both Council and the Citizens from government corruption and mismanagement.
Let’s say the councilor is a member of a Special Interest Group organized to agitate for or against social issues happening in the community. And that group comes before council to ask for things and lobby council in the hopes of swaying council’s thinking and actions around to their way of thinking. Or at least stop behaving in ways that the group disagrees with.
C4 is such a group.
It has around 600 members.
5 of them are City Councilors.
C4 is a not-public Facebook group.
The public can apply to join the group but until they are a member the public cannot see the discussions and activities within the group.
Facebook is a tool for Social Networking.
Discussion and information dissemination are hallmarks of its product and service offering.
This was used to great effect to organize and get the word out during the Arab Spring.
People on Facebook and Twitter helped take down whole national governments.
I’m not saying C4 is trying to take down the government – though they’d apparently like to see an end to BC Housing.
What I am wondering about is if the Province (source of our municipal government’s power and rules) has given any guidance to municipal governments in regard to elected officials’ membership in special interest groups that lobby city hall on the one hand, get involved in social topics to the extent that they change the social support system landscape on the other, and organize and discuss in secret on Facebook.
People may feel I chose C4 because I have a negative opinion of them.
While I’ll admit I’m not all that impressed with some of the things I hear about what members have said I will give them credit for taking an interest and making the effort to try and make their city a safer and better place. I just disagree with a lot of their ideas.
Oh, I’ll add that I’m not impressed by the Trolls within the group though any group that lets the public in could have Trolls. So I don’t hold the Trolls against the group . . most of the time (I’m human).
And to be clear: I do not believe I have ever called C4 a Hate Group though I have heard people refer to them that way. If someone can show me where I’ve done that I’ll own up to and think about how to apologize.
But the real reason I’ve chosen them was stated above:
5 members of city council are also members of C4.
If discussions happen within the group about things which will appear before council the Public has No Way to know if and what these councilors are saying within the group because it is closed to the public.
One of the councilors suggested that there are many times when a quorum of councilors might congregate together and held out the Christmas Party for an example.
I would submit that there is a world of difference between happening to all be at some innocuous social function and membership in a special interest group that involves itself in affairs that council also involves itself in and lobbies council to take action, or not, on these same affairs.
So I’ll restate it here: 5 officials you voters elected in a democratic vote have chosen to become members of a quasi-secret group that lobbies council.
But what I began the conversation off with, and what I’m still asking for, is whether the Province has given and guidance to municipal governments on the involvement of elected officials in special interest groups that involve themselves in local politics.
This could just as easily be about a ‘positive’ thing for the community.
Hypothetical example: What if a big box store like Walmart decided they wanted to set up shop here.
But (there’s always a but) they need a huge chunk of land and part of what they wanted was already owned by a half dozen properties. That means eminent domain and expropriation and that is more often than not a very contentious issue.
So a movement is begun by the citizens who want the Walmart and a counter movement is created by citizens who don’t want it. In closed groups on Facebook.
Let’s say that one of these groups was created by a City Councillor and in short order it collects a quorum of city councilors as members.
And when the city opens up public discussion about this both groups submit delegations and presentations.
And then it comes time for the city council to vote on whether to proceed or not.
They vote. Shortly after the whole town is apprised of the fact that one of these lobbying groups not only had a quorum of councilors but was created by one of them as well.
Irrespective of whether any of these councilors has a pecuniary interest (meaning they’ll financially profit) there is the impact on the citizens trust in the democratic process.
Those in the other group will be very suspicious that ‘the fix was in’ and true democracy was absent in the vote. This would also likely be the case if the public knew going in that the group was created by a city councilor and had a quorum of them in its ranks.
In fact if that were the case and entreaties to council to have them recuse themselves met with no success (or disdain) then it would be very hard to dissuade members of the other group that council was not corrupt.
Why? Because the public could not see or question the deliberations that happened outside public view in ‘secret’. And if the elected officials are willing to go that far in a quasi-secret group how far might they actually go in a real secret meeting?
The fact that the C4 group has captured 5 members of council and apparently no one around that table was really aware of that gives me pause for concern. It should to anyone who values the democratic process.
The possibility that the City may find itself in court after someone is injured or killed by the extreme weather and that could be tracked back to the actions of council at the urging of this group gives me cause for concern. As a taxpayer, a voter and, if nothing else, a human being.
We are already facing court action regarding denial of a development variance – a decision which some might say might have been tinged with emotions and bias related to the topics that C4 has lobbied council about.
I’m not saying C4 has got us in trouble – I’m saying Councilors’ membership in C4 and its active and successful lobbying of council to take action might make it difficult for councilors to find time for sober second thought. Facebook groups can be noisy echo chambers.
Letting it go (council membership in SIGs) this time means the next time it’s a no-brainer as they say – councilors can just join up and lobby away.
People don’t trust politicians.
Politicians behaving in ways like this only makes that situation worse, in my humble opinion.
I want to know that the Province is working on guidance in this area.
I’d like to know if they’ve shared any of that with the City.
It’s in All our interests.
Before I leave this I want to apologize to the Mayor for the way the meeting ending worked out.
Mr. Mayor I wish I had a better reason than ‘I was distracted and not paying attention to you’ when you banged your gavel and it did not get my attention.
I did not want to have the talk get out of hand and for the shambles it made out of your control and meeting decorum I abjectly and humbly apologize.