John Best thinks democracy is dead in the RM of Round Valley, which is up in the Unity area of the province.
That’s what he wrote in a Letter to the Editor in the June 28 issue of the Unity-Wilkie Press-Herald, one of our publication peers in the weekly newspaper biz. Side note – Tim Holtorf, an ‘alumni’ of The Outlook, happens to work at that paper. Hey Tim! Long time no see, man!
Mr. Best took the RM of Round Valley council to task following their June 18 meeting, which apparently was the first meeting of the “new regime”, and effectively proclaimed that, “Council has effectively killed Democracy.”
He says that “discussions and decisions which by the rule of law must be held and discussed in public are now being made in secret meetings, with all members of the public totally excluded.”
John claims that the four-member council group pushed through a motion at the beginning of the meeting to conduct all discussions in-camera, and then return out of camera to pass any and all motions. The letter goes on to further say that after a three-hour in-camera session, council returned and passed a series of motions with no further discussion.
According to Best, council’s reasoning for the lengthy in-camera session was that the presence of the public, or ‘the gallery’, was “disturbing them and preventing them from feeling comfortable to discuss their views.”
John went on to try and rally the public to make their voices heard on the matter.
My co-worker Shelley recommended that I check out this particular Letter to the Editor, and I couldn’t help but chuckle and shake my head when I’d finished reading it. The similarities were amusing, even if it’s a consistently troublesome issue. After all, it was only three months and change ago that we here at The Outlook were involved in something of a “lover’s quarrel” with the Town of Outlook over a questionnaire we’d compiled, in which this controversial topic of in-camera meetings was one of the key areas of questioning.
In our case, time went on and we reached what I like to think is a healthy professional respect. I still cover town council meetings, and the format includes any in-camera items to be discussed at the end of the meeting after the correspondence has been accepted and passed. It works for me because it lets me get all the information I need from the regular meeting, and from there, we request the adopted minutes of that meeting to include in a future issue, which would include any motions made after council had exited in-camera talks. To us, it’s just a way to cover all the bases and get the absolute most important and useful information out there to the public.
In all honesty, I’m not sure if The Outlook will ever be invited to perhaps one or two councillors’ homes for a barbecue anytime soon, but again, I think we’ve reached a place with the Town where there is once again a certain level of trust.
As far as this council in the RM of Round Valley is concerned though, this one’s a head-scratcher to me. What people in these roles need to remember is that you’re in a PUBLIC role as a councillor, whether it’s with a specific town/village or an entire rural municipality. You’re put in a position to help make decisions for the people of that area, and therefore you’re expected to be public with any such discussions related to the people of that area.
When you’re in a public role, the public expects you to be public. Calling for a three-hour in-camera session – during your first meeting as an RM council, mind you – doesn’t set the best tone as far as transparency and openness is concerned. Should the people of the RM of Round Valley expect EVERY council meeting to be held in-camera? Though they did toy with the idea of dedicating one meeting per month to be all in-camera, even the Town of Outlook council ultimately scrapped that idea. The optics just don’t look good with an idea such as that.
The biggest part in John’s letter that grabbed my attention was council’s alleged reason that the presence of the public disturbs them and prevents them from feeling comfortable discussing their views. If this is indeed true, well, the only thing I can say to councillors in the RM of Round Valley is this: grow a pair. If you don’t “feel comfortable” discussing your views as it relates to making decisions that affect ratepayers in the presence of said ratepayers, then give up your seat to someone who doesn’t have such a problem.
With only Mr. Best’s side of things, I’d love to hear the RM of Round Valley’s side of things in this interesting development.
As it stands, that council appears on paper to be nothing more than a secret “boys club.”
For this week, that’s been the Ruttle Report.