by Ed Cowley, freelancer
The town of Morinville council continues to show the lack of experience as it stumbles over some simple basics while failing to step forward to address obvious governance issues which arise during their meetings.
A simple task of responding to questions earlier this fall has become an issue which has most of council silenced from responding to the critical media — now including the Mayor. However, a couple of veteran councillors are addressing the situation in their own way. When all of council were asked to explain why they allowed the Morinville Community Leisure Centre lands to be discussed in closed session, Mayor Simon Boersma had reacted by basically telling his councillors not to respond to the questions sent through the ‘Mayor and Council’ email on its website.
Councillors Stephen Dafoe and Scott Richardson are continuing to respond to media questions, with Dafoe also moving to get the issue resolved at the council table.
The Mayor had laid claim to the right to be the only one to respond to questions sent by media to the ‘Mayor and Council’ contact on the town website.
The media request was not for the “official council position” and clearly stated it was requesting the view of each member of council. The nonsense regarding emailing each individual member of council is simply a distraction. If the town’s intent is to play a game of hide and seek in which the Mayor or administration change the rules on how and when and under what circumstances councillors will answer questions, it reveals the intent to dip into political gamesmanship to avoid providing a comment publicly.
It should be noted that even if they know it is not an acceptable situation, some councillors may be sitting quietly because they can cite the Mayor’s declaration as a reason to avoid being held accountable to the public. While most politicians say they welcome public input and want to hear both sides of an issue, few step forward to actually encourage public debate.
Ironically, four governance issues which council had failed to take action on were sent to the same contact point, asking each of the council members whether they would support a resolution at council to address each issue. There were only two responses. So as the official spokesman who doesn’t want councillors responding to media through the ‘Mayor and Council’ contact what did the Mayor have to say about any of the four governance issues? The official response from the Mayor was no response.
Second term councillor Richardson and long-time councillor Dafoe ignored the communications nonsense and responded to all the questions, while none of the other members of council even acknowledged receiving the questions.
However, with more than a decade on council, Dafoe decided to take a head-on approach to get the communications issue solved. He put forward a notice of motion that will be discussed at the Oct. 11 council meeting to have that Council Code of Conduct policy reviewed to make crystal clear the town’s response protocol for questions sent to council.
Regardless of what council determines, the Mayor of a municipality has no power to tell anyone who they are allowed to communicate with, nor is the Mayor empowered to direct anyone on how they talk to anyone else on their own time. The Mayor, or meeting chairman, controls only the speakers during an actual council meeting and cannot enforce a gag order against anyone whether councillor, media or a member of the general public.
Even without the guidance of the Municipal Government Act, every member of council should have sufficient knowledge of democracy and the boundaries of the principle of free speech to recognize when they are receiving unreasonable direction from anyone, including a superior. Most councillors should be expected to be aware of the role of both council and the media in a democracy, although it appears several would struggle to name the three columns of democracy let alone the fourth.
It is a sad state when the majority of council don’t have the personal strength to oppose or simply ignore unreasonable interpretations, such as it’s-my-contact-point-and-you-can’t-respond to the emails statement.