Letter to the editor 1, Sept. 14, 2017
Question period at St. Lazare town council meetings
With September 22nd fast approaching (the actual date where potential candidates may begin submitting their intent to run in the next elections), this may be my one and only chance to use this venue to make a political statement. You all know that I have, and always have had, an open-door policy at town hall. I will meet with any resident upon their request, and I will answer all questions and discuss any issue. In general, I refrain from responding to allegations and disinformation. The fact is that most of the time, such postings are based on allegations or opinions. To properly respond requires time and energy that is better spent elsewhere. I prefer meeting face to face with residents rather than respond on social media and other such venues.
That being said, there is an exception to this rule, and that is at town council meetings. Questions asked at council meetings require a response even when they are based on disinformation and allegations. In far too many cases, a great deal of time is spent responding to allegations and opinions brought to council during this public forum. When people come to the microphone at question period with political agendas rather than an honest request for information, council is often asked to answer to allegations, insinuations, and opinions.
This is usually followed up by a waste of resource and time needed at the administrative level and required to correct the information. This has got to be one of my biggest pet-peeves. For those who attend council meetings regularly, you know that this happens at almost every council meeting, but I will give only one example to illustrate the time and effort required to answer false allegations.
At the August council meeting a particular resident with political intent (who will remain nameless) got up and said that he had proof that the councillors had bilked the system in 2014 and were remunerated far more than they should have been. In essence, he alleged the councillors were stealing money from the town. A blatant production of disinformation and allegations presented at a council meeting as if it were fact. Of course this made headlines in our local papers and the social media message boards were buzzing with this news. The onus of proof now falls on the town to prove that this is not the case.
To access our archives and dig up all the information required to prove that these allegations were false required approximate a week’s work of research from the human resource department. Meanwhile, the resident is subsequently met by the town manager and his staff to produce and explain all the documents that clearly show that his allegations were false and incorrect. And there you have it, wasted time and resources to respond to lies and allegations that are politically motivated.
Question period at the last council meeting lasted almost three hours. Not a huge surprise considering we are definitely in pre-election mode, but nonetheless, a very long question period. There were many good questions about taxation, infrastructure and urbanism issues. Some could be answered there and them, others required research. But, unfortunately, there were many who came to the microphone to put on a show, ask questions they already have the answers to, and spew out allegations and insinuation with only one intent – to create a manure pile to be stirred at a later date. Is there a perfect formula for question period? I do not know! But, it is definitely something that will have to be addressed in the near future.
Mayor of Saint Lazare