Watching a councillor squabbling with the mayor over a point of procedure is something that crops up from time to time in any council meeting anywhere in the country. But it seems of late to be the standard operating procedure of Sturgeon County Council, one that causes meetings to drag on longer than they perhaps should and one that (for some councillors) seems to be causing items to get left hanging along with members of Sturgeon County Administration who have to work on material brought to council.
The Oct. 10 meeting of council was, from this outsider’s viewpoint, an embarrassing display of spitting, sputtering and outright obstinacy in moving forward with the work councillors are charged with doing. While it is perfectly acceptable to not want to rush forward with motions so as to give members of council an opportunity to digest concepts and the ramifications of their decisions one way or another, it is another matter entirely to get bogged down with whether or not material accepted as information should then be tabled until another meeting or whether material accepted as information should be presented to council.
When such a procedural SNAFU happens once per meeting, one can sum it up as a momentary glitch in the system: when it happens more than a couple times per meeting, as it has of late, it is indicative of a greater problem.
So just what is that greater problem?
Is it an utter inability of Sturgeon County Mayor Donald Rigney to run a meeting effectively? And here we are not talking about his frequent sidebars to quote long-dead political and philosophical thinkers like Thomas Paine or Jonathan Swift, or sidebars into his wealth of knowledge on the global economy, but his fundamental ability to put basic elements of Roberts Rules of Order into play to keep things moving along. If this is the problem, then merely consulting the aforementioned book or consulting with Toastmasters or a 4-H Club on how to run an effective meeting would serve County Council well. Failing that, the County could pick up the phone and call Municipal Affairs and ask for some assistance on how to run a meeting.
But if the problem extends beyond merely being able to figure out whether the motion or discussion comes first, then it perhaps lies in a divided council who seem unable to work together and where the balance of power appears to rest with Division 5 Councillor Joe Milligan. It is far from uncommon to find Councillor Kluthe and McGeachy voting in harmony with the mayor and for Councillors Flynn, Shaw and McGillis to be found voting in harmony on many matters. With a frequent 3-3 split, the advancement or halting of any issue before council would rest with one vote – Councillor Milligan’s. This is not to imply such a split will occur on every issue, but it seems to happen that way more than one might naturally suppose.
There is clearly a problem in County Council chambers between mayor and some councillors, and between individual councillor and individual councillor in some cases. With County Council now being video recorded, we strongly recommend any councillor who doubts this assumption to review some of the footage from Tuesday’s meeting, taking particular note of their facial expressions – the faces they are presenting to those in the gallery, be they media, rate payer or both.
When a councillor is visibly angered two motions after the one that appeared to have caused them upset, are they acting in the best interests of the people in their divisions they were elected to represent? We understand passion. We understand frustration. But we also understand the concept of kicking the dog at the end of the day because one’s boss upset them before lunch or their first comfort break of the day. That is not to imply a councillor would vote yay or nay out of spite or revenge, but human nature is human nature.
Budget 2012 is currently under early discussion and County Councillors will soon be forced to make a decision on how much more tax payers will have to pay in 2012. Will those decisions be made in harmony and with the understanding that while councillors may have differences of opinion there is a common direction? Or will they be made by councillors so angry with their mayor or one another that they shut down rather than try to find common ground from which to operate?
It is our sincerest hope that Sturgeon County Council gets its collective act together as soon as possible, at very least putting aside any differences procedural or otherwise before deciding the fate and rate County ratepayers will incur next year.
If the media walk out of your meeting because they feel their time is being wasted by council, how then must Sturgeon County’s paid staff feel when their work is repeatedly halted or sent back to the well because of procedural SNAFUs?