Sunday, April 21, 2024

Has This Council Saved The Best For Last?

By Stephen Vance, Editor

I’m often asked how I and my fellow reporters manage to endure sitting through council meetings. Don’t you get frustrated? Don’t you get bored? Isn’t it just a big waste of time?

If I were a fan of brevity, I would answer those three questions with – sometimes, not really, and absolutely not.

Brevity however has never been my forte. Certainly there are moments, both good and bad.

There are times when you’re approaching hour four of what you had hoped would be a three hour meeting, and members of council are in the midst of an agonizingly lengthy discussion on a single minor agenda item as you try to comfort yourself with the fact that at least there are just eight items left on the agenda.

Personally, I wouldn’t have it any other way. In spite of any human disposition to become frustrated when a discussion exceeds what I might think is an appropriate amount of time, if council needs to discuss an issue for an hour, then council needs to discuss the issue for an hour. Certainly that is better than having no council discussion at all.

In fact, in the last year or so, this council has been a joy to cover whether for a quick hour-long meeting, or a five hour marathon, and the reason is simple. Councillors finally started talking.

Not that I agree with some of the things they say, that isn’t important. What is important is that at some point in recent history, this council decided that the process works much better when all seven members engage in discussions, as opposed to the same couple of councillors forever speaking to issues.

This week’s council meeting was an excellent example of how far this council has come in that regard. The meeting, which technically consisted of three separate meetings, lasted a little more than five hours, and there were some heavy-duty items on the agenda.

When discussing the possibility of extending a line of credit to the organization that is building a new medical clinic in the municipality, members of council approached the issue logically: they asked excellent questions, they explored options, and ultimately council generally agreed that while the coffers may be full these days, they preferred not to get into the banking business, but council did agree to double their $25,000 contribution for this year to the project, and should a bank require any letter of support, or copies of the bylaw outlining the $250,000 commitment Meaford has made over the next 10 years, they would be happy to do so.

The discussion was lengthy. The discussion was intelligent. The discussion produced logical, practical results.

What I’ve described above was not a one-off performance, but rather an increasingly common occurrence in Meaford’s council chamber.

Certainly council, even in the last two years, has made what some might consider questionable decisions. This council has had me scratching my head a time or two, and more than a few times I have found myself thankful that I already have no hair on my head, as it would be a shame to attribute rapid hair loss to council endurance syndrome. If I want my baldness to be blamed on anything, I want it to be something more than seven members of council.

Even with decisions made by this council in recent years that I haven’t agreed with, the big difference is more and more, the issues are being discussed at length by members of council. Councillors are arriving at their desks in the chamber armed with good questions, and good suggestions. When our elected representatives actually engage in discussion and debate, we get a far better idea of who those members of council are, what they stand for, and whether or not we want to cast a vote for them in the future.

If I were grading this council in their first two years, I would most likely have given them a solid C-.

In the last two years, however, every single member of council, from seasoned veterans to the ones that are approaching the final days of their first kick at the council can, has improved in this area, so if I were grading the last two years of this council based on their productivity, councillor participation, and the practical solutions they have been finding for municipal issues, I would give them an A-.

So has this council saved the best for last? If they have, I personally thank them, but wouldn’t it be nice to have had a “Mulligan” for the first two years?

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