GUEST COMMENT: Insecurity in the absence of leadership

Until our mayor returns, council needs to focus on the next steps of strategic planning and listening to the public

By Diane Bernard

History was made last week when acting mayor Kerry Reay denied a citizen, me, the right to speak to council.

There’s no record in the municipality’s past 16 years when a resident is denied delegation, and there’s no memory of this, under the previous Sooke Electoral Area.

What’s the reason for stopping me? My topics were hardly outrageous: Optics on District of Sooke 2015-16 strategic plans, governance, budgets – ho hum stuff for most readers.

Were there administrative reasons? No, I submitted my form early and there was space on the agenda.

In case I had some evil plot up my sleeve to embarrass council, Reay had the chief administrative officer grill me on exactly what I would say – well, I said, my questions about the strategic plan related to what’s next for Sooke’s core infrastructure and for the budget and where are we in the 2016 process.

Incredulously, the CAO’s response was “insufficient” and down came the heavy hand of bylaw 422.23.4.

We should all be concerned when our elected council, who works on our behalf, denies free speech. Remember, we just turfed a federal government in part for such strong-arm tactics.

So what’s going on when we can’t speak to council? A psychologist might venture these are the tactics of the fearful or the insecure.

It didn’t seem this way in 2015, and I wonder how council has changed.

In 2015, we saw forward momentum into the 21st century of a working council with elected Mayor Maja Tait: improved core infrastructure; with productive, open public meetings; and strategic planning with a budget to protect the taxpayer.

It’s 2016 and council doesn’t look so healthy.

The public is raising alarm bells. Are we drifting back to old habits of who-you-know, meetings by invitation and favours?

There’s a sense of disapproval if the public asks about staffing and hiring practices. And incredulousness, if you ask about council’s upcoming work plans or budgets.

Clearly the difference is the absence of our elected Mayor Maja Tait, who is on maternity leave.

The 2015 strengths were under her leadership. The weakness we see in early 2016 indicates council is in the midst of upheaval.

There’s a lot more at stake here. This municipality is young, small and without a strong tax base. There are no budget lines or dollars for petty politics.

It’s all too obvious. Council misses Tait and is in need of her brand of leadership.

Until our mayor returns, council needs to focus on the next steps of strategic planning, keep the corporate systems effective and stay within budget. And it should include working with the public and being open to citizens consultation.

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Diane Bernard is a Sooke resident and former egional district director.