Monday, February 26, 2024

Public Scrutiny is Part of the Deal

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Any time a government employee is charged with a crime, there is a justified cause for concern among the citizens who paid for and were served by that employee.

The recent arrest of Meaford’s Director of Community Services, Catherine Purcell, on charges of fraud while employed by the Township of King where she worked for 11 years before taking the newly created Community Services post in Meaford last July, certainly came as a surprise to everyone.

And while it may be tempting to wag a chastising finger at yet another civil servant run amok, we must remember that everyone in our country has the benefit of the presumption of innocence until proven guilty.

All we really know at this point is that the administration in King noticed some abnormalities during their annual audit of the municipal books, the police were notified, an investigation took place, and charges were laid.

We know nothing more, and Meaford’s council reacted quickly and responsibly by making a public statement the following day acknowledging the arrest, reminding everyone of Purcell’s right to the presumption of innocence, and placing her on paid administrative leave until the matter is resolved.

While Purcell could very well be guilty of the charges, she could just as easily be innocent, and we must let the courts decide. We are all aware that often there is more to the story, and we are also painfully aware that sometimes charges are laid against innocent people.

And though the charges have nothing to do with Purcell’s performance and duties since taking the job in Meaford, and while there is no indication that Purcell engaged in any inappropriate activities while being paid with Meaford tax dollars, if there is a lesson for our council to learn from this incident, it is this – while some councillors may at times become frustrated with residents who raise concerns, or scrutinize the administration of our municipality, more often than not, concerns raised are justified, and residents not only have a right to express those concerns, they have a duty to do so.

That is how democracy works. That is how governments are held accountable. That is how transparency is maintained.

Residents of any municipality should take it upon themselves to make themselves aware of the goings on in their local government. They should be ever vigilant in their assessment, and critical analysis of how their municipality is being run and by whom.

Councillors shouldn’t bristle when residents ask hard questions. They shouldn’t roll their eyes if a resident becomes animated while expressing a concern. Councillors should understand that everyone is entitled to keep close tabs on how their hard earned money is spent, and how they are represented – both by elected officials, and those hired by the municipality to execute the direction of those elected officials.

Councillors should also remember that when they asked the public to vote for them, they entered into an agreement of sorts. An agreement to hear concerns, and to represent their constituents. Anyone who makes the decision to run for public office must know that in doing so they will rarely hear from the content, but they will certainly hear from those who are less than content. It is part of the deal.

Meaford’s council reacted admirably when faced with the unfortunate situation of one of their senior managers being arrested and charged with a serious crime. They were respectful of the accused, and they showed a willingness to reserve opinion until all of the facts are known.

They should act equally as admirably, and with the same respect shown to Purcell when residents question municipal expenditures, or express dissatisfaction with proposals or decisions of council.

In being ever vigilant, residents are simply upholding their end of the democratic bargain.


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