Obviously, with it being the end of the year, I’ve been thinking a lot about what kind of year it’s been at City Hall, and all things considered, it’s been pretty good.
Now hold on, you say! What kind of lefty, commie, lame stream media B.S. is this? First of all, calm down, Uncle Ezra.
Over on Guelph Politico, I posted a Top 10 list of the year’s political stories and that had some pretty controversial notes: cancelling internet voting for 2018, the email leak debacle, and concerns about creeping privatization being among them.
Then there’s the little things. For instance, remember that time when council accidentally ended its present committee structure? Good times.
Sure, some looney, disappointing, and out right maddening things can happen at the council chambers, but through it all, one can appreciate that by and large, our council is populated by serious, professional people believing that they’re acting in the best interests of their city and their constituents.
I was reminded while recording a year-end podcast with GuelphToday’s Tony Saxon and the Guelph Mercury Tribune’s Graeme McNaughton just how dicey things can get at councils that act in a somewhat less than serious capacity.
Think about it... is there a Guelph equivalent of Giorgio Mammoliti, who’s recent exploits find him in political hot water over an extravagant taxpayer funded stay at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier for four nights during the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) meeting back in June. Mammoliti phrases himself as a deficit hawk, but for his own accommodations, he billed the City of Toronto for a week-long stay at a hotel known for "regal elegance... reminiscent of a French chateau.”
But let’s forget about Mammoliti, because you can find bizarro characters in just about any walk of life. Let’s consider instead the curious case of Bill Sawchuk, a journalist with the St. Catharines Standard who had his computer, audio recorder and notes confiscated because Regional Chair Alan Caslin thought that Sawchuk was recording a closed session of regional council.
For the record, he wasn’t.
A citizen journalist named Preston Haskell also had his recorder impounded, and while the whole matter has been referred to Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé, the entire affair will undoubtedly leave a bad taste in the mouth of people concerned about lack of city hall coverage. I mean, is sort of thing going to inspire people to keep an eye on city hall when they could end up entwined in a police investigation?
Cynically-speaking, maybe that’s the idea. It is however worth noting that the St. Catharines Standard is one of the few papers to survive TorStar/Postmedia’s prisoner exchange and execution from a few weeks ago.
So by the standards of gross offence to Freedom of Speech, Guelph city council is pretty cool.
Really though, it is encouraging that, for the most part, city council has made itself an open place for the most part. Could it be made more open? Definitely. Closed meeting procedure tends to be an issue. Amberley Gavel came back with a report to council back in July that said that they needn’t be so quick going into closed meetings all the time.
Having said that, Amberley Gavel saw no sign that council was abusing the closed meeting statute. So in other words, council is just overly conscious about not veering too far off the trail when it comes to appropriate discussion in open meetings, which isn’t the most terrible trait.
Now before you accuse me of writing an apologist puff piece about council, let me just say that there have ben screw-ups this year, and not just the committee thing. Better public engagement on contentious issues like internet voting and hydro mergers would have been advisable, and there are some members of council that could do more outreach on social media.
And not for nothing, but if the council agenda and reports could be written for someone whose knowledge of legalese comes exclusively from hours of watching Law & Order reruns, I don’t think anyone would complain.
Obviously, since it’s Christmas time, I thought it might be in keeping with the season to dedicate a column to saying something nice about the beat I cover, but is it my job to try and be nice?
It’s an interesting question. I recently did an interview with the Ryerson Review of Journalism about whimsical socks. Kidding. Of course, it was about life in Guelph once the daily newspaper went away. I made a comment the writer pressed me on about proceeding from the assumption people on city council will there with the intention to do what’s right for the city as they see it.
We can call it a Royal City naivety (the Guelph Factor?) to think that none of the 13 people around the horseshoe have malicious motives for being in office, but 12 of them are technically part-time employees after all. What I meant to say was that I don’t want to be one of those people that’s always on the attack. As a journalist, I don’t want to have an agenda of constantly proving one side wrong to make my side right.
For instance, there was a news start-up a few years ago that proceeded with the assumption that the former mayor was corrupt or incompetent, and this person took umbrage when said mayor refused to submit herself to him for an interrogation. I mean interview.
I may not always agree with Mayor Guthrie, but he’s not my arch-nemesis. My job as a journalist isn’t to destroy him, or any member of council, merely to hold them to account. I have questions, they have answers, and in this space I may have opinions about those answers, and after that, there may be more questions.
So in this time of peace and joy, and surely before we begin another contentious election process, let’s take a minute to remember that politicians are people, with all the same thoughts and feelings.
I’m reminded of a scene from the Tony Scott remake of The Taking of Pelham 123, when the Mayor of New York is told of a hostage situation on a subway train. The mayor’s staff orders the train he’s riding to take him immediately down the line to the Rail Control Centre where NYPD is monitoring the situation.
The people on the train are enraged, but the nameless mayor, played by the late great James Gandolfini assures everyone that they will all make their stops.
“Hey,” says one elated man in a hard hat. “Maybe he’s not such an a**hole after all!”
There’s a Christmas thought if I’ve ever heard it. Happy holidays.