Thursday, June 1, 2023

Good Ideas, Bad Ideas, Council Must Entertain Them All

It is not uncommon for me to hear from frustrated residents, often unfamiliar with council procedure, who are angered that council would consider a proposal for which the resident, or a group of residents, is wildly opposed.

‘How dare council consider this proposal that I/we don’t like?’ I have heard folks say. ‘Why in the world would council entertain such a horrible proposal?’ I have heard others express.

The answer is simple: it’s their job.

Just as a banker doesn’t approve every loan application, they will consider any and all applicants. A landlord might show an apartment to a dozen potential renters, and that landlord could approve one of the applicants, or reject them all, but they will at the very least entertain all applicants.

A municipal council is in a similar situation. They can’t pick and choose what proposals they consider at council, they can’t pre-filter development proposals or requests to purchase municipal property, instead they must consider and vote on the proposals and requests brought before them, in public, at a council meeting.

The reality is that virtually anyone can walk into the municipal administration office with a proposal or a request, and whether their request angers residents or not, it is the job of council to at the very least hear out the proponent, while at the same time solicit input from the public.

With many new proposals however, I hear from folks, some of them furious, that council would entertain contentious proposals. I hear it with most new development proposals, and I heard it again recently with the request to purchase municipally owned land on Sideroad 22.

As a result, I have noticed that some folks work themselves into a combative state before the ink is fully dry on a council agenda, and so their initial interaction with council, whether by email, phone call, or in the council chamber can be adversarial, when for all the angry resident knows, members of council already agree with them.

I have noticed that some who are angered at an item on the council agenda have an assumption that if something is included in the council meeting agenda, that approval is imminent, and that just isn’t the case. I have seen folks on social media discuss an agenda item as if it were already approved and as a result the sky is about to fall. But a request is simply a request, and a proposal is just a proposal, and it is council’s job to filter through the requests made and the opinions of residents in order to determine the best course of action.

Democracy at work, nothing more, and nothing less.

Just imagine a world in which a local council could opt to not consider requests or proposals properly submitted to the municipality. Imagine how such a power to simply ignore could be abused. Our system, however, doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t have a mechanism to pre-select only the most palatable of proposals, casting all others aside. Nope, our system is open, and transparent, and if a development proposal is submitted by a property owner, and yes, developers are property owners too, or if a request to purchase a piece of municipal property is submitted, a local council is duty bound to consider those proposals and requests, and to do so publicly, and with the input of local ratepayers.

When it comes to public input, it’s the most valuable asset of any municipal council. Members of council rely on it, as on paper many proposals can appear to be fabulous, but the neighbouring residents, local ratepayers, can provide opinions and insights that a member of council might not have prior to an item being considered at the council table.

If we know one thing about Meafordites, it’s that they don’t shy away from letting their council know where they stand on issues. It is part of what makes this such a great municipality to call home. In the 15 years that I have been reporting on this community, I have seen time and again the power and the beauty of public input. I have seen councils reverse course after receiving input from the public, but I have also seen councils make tough decisions knowing that there is significant opposition. An easy job it is not, but few jobs are as important.

So yes, our municipal council will from time to time entertain proposals for which the majority of residents are wildly opposed, it is what we elected them to do. What is important is that council hears from ratepayers when problematic proposals find their way into a council agenda.

Neighbouring residents of the Sideroad 22 property which an orchard owner requested to purchase in order to build a water pump-house did themselves and this community proud on Monday. They filled the council chamber, they made impassioned presentations to council, and they did so respectfully. As those engaged residents saw, members of council, all five who were present for the discussion, also had many concerns about the request, and they stated publicly that they were not in a position to make any decision until more information can be provided, particularly information that would address the concerns of residents who fear losing important access to their properties. And so council voted to defer until more information can be provided to them.

I’d suggest that we couldn’t ask for more from an elected council; a council acknowledging the concerns expressed by residents, indicating that they too share in those concerns, yet remaining fair and impartial, offering an opportunity for more information to be provided before making any decision.


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