As I watched Springwater Council in action twice this week, including the notorious Special Public Meeting on the 17th, these iconic words came to mind. At the Council meeting on the 16th, Rick Webster suddenly withdrew his petty motion to chill public dissent, camouflaged by the proposed naming and shaming, via taxpayer-funded legal action, of anyone indulging in so-called slanderous or libelous innuendo. Perhaps he read Gary French’s masterful dissection of this motion in the last issue of the Springwater News, and didn’t like his portrayal. A more alarming and sinister theory is that he lost one of his 4 votes; and thus had no choice but to withdraw his motion to avoid an embarrassing defeat. Should we believe that’s the end of Council trying to stop commentary they don’t like?
That brings me to Question Period, a 10 minute sop to the long-suffering residents in which 5 members of the audience [I use this word literally] have 2 minutes each to ask Council about something that’s on their mind. And to which they expect an answer right then or no later than necessary. Do those public questions get answered? Usually not. Regular attendees, like myself, seriously wonder if our questions drop into a black hole, never to see the light of day again. Then, there’s Council’s latest attempt at ham-stringing voters: they want us to ask questions relating only to that night’s agenda. That certainly keeps the topics narrow, doesn’t it? What if your burning interest is not on the agenda or you didn’t have a chance to read the agenda beforehand because you’re busy with real life and it was published late?
On Tuesday, there was the sideshow of the Special Meeting, advertised to residents online and in the mail as an opportunity for Council to discuss and debate the Township lawyer’s report on the legal issues associated with the Midhurst Secondary Plan and determine next steps. Right after the lawyer finished, Councillor Hanna asked Council to permit a Question Period. All-knowing Mayor Collins said this wasn’t required at a Special Meeting and said no. Clearly, in her opinion, the overflow crowd was just expected to sit there like dumb animals and let Council’s pontificating wash over them unimpeded. After some testy discussion, it was grudgingly allowed. Of course, the public had more questions than 10 minutes could accommodate and, therefore, wanted more time. Well, you’d think Council had been asked to open the vaults! More wrangling ensued among the Councillors, most vocally Councillor McConkey who said she’d okay a measly 2 additional questions because how much time did we want [read that as deserve] anyway.
The icing on the cake was Council’s sudden introduction and quick passing – 5 to 2 [Hanna and Ritchie voted no] - of a motion that could only have been written, let alone understood, by a lawyer [it was] to cut off any further review of past events leading to the MSP as it is today. One reason given was that staff resources are “finite”. They can’t be expected to keep on finding answers to the many serious questions and concerns the community has about this utter travesty of good planning, can they? And who pays their wages, again? Well, talk about being blind-sided! This infamous motion was not listed on the agenda, the public was shocked, and word has it that not every councillor even knew about it beforehand! Some knowledgeable folks are wondering if this motion is even legal, given the apparent lack of due process. Whatever the facts, it was not “open and transparent”, as Council likes to describe itself.
Yes, “deceive, inveigle and obfuscate” live on in Springwater Council. Welcome to your local government.