Defending the Indefensible

This article first appeared in:

http://JustSayinCaledon.com

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Unless we have been on a long spiritual walkabout, what has preoccupied most of our black mirror moments these past few months, to paraphrase Nero, has been watching America churn while Donald tweeted. The best shows on screen right now are the newscasts covering the untruths, alternative truths, spins and outright lies of the enablers of the megalomaniac man-child on the throne to our south.

As a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists, I take my fact-checking and reporting very seriously. Without honesty in words there can be no truth among people. So it grieved me greatly, while sitting behind the media desk at the April 18/17 Council meeting in my little Town of Caledon, to see a public delegation try to spin the clear violations of the council’s Code of Conduct by one of our Councillors as if they were appropriate, even admirable, behaviours. Listening to the words of the delegations was like listening to Sean Spicer try to defend Donald Trump.  When you do so, you lose all credibility, as did the public delegations at Council that day.

Now, a little background is necessary here. Rurban municipal councils can be fractious at times. We have the country mouse sparring with the city mouse over development and growth issues, over the Greenbelt versus the Whitebelt, over agricultural lands versus employment lands versus residential infilling. One thing I can say for certain about Caledon is that we do not want it to look like Brampton or Mississauga. Hazel McCallion paved paradise and put up a parking lot. (You were right, Joni.)

In Town Councils, as issues become complex and perspectives collide, discussions can get heated. The mice begin to spar and tempers can rise, so we have a Code of Conduct to govern their behaviour. Every new Councillor gets the Code when they take office. Some read it, comprehend it, and apply it. Some don’t. Every new Councillor also attends a training day learning about procedures and policies that govern municipalities from the Municipal Act on down. Some get it. Some don’t.

So if a Councillor is belligerent, temperamental, uses abusive language, issues racial slurs, is intimidating to Town staff, and appears to be ill-informed at Council meetings it raises flags of concern. And if that same Councillor is described by friends as rude, offensive, aggressive and behaving like a bull in a china shop, it sets off the alarm bells.

Unfortunately, on Caledon Town Council, such a situation developed. Following all of the proper procedures, concerned staff made their complaints to the Town’s Integrity Commissioner who did the appropriate investigation and prepared a report. At the Council meeting for the Town of Caledon on April 18, 2017, the Councillor in question was the subject of the Town’s Integrity Commissioner’s Report.

The Report from the Integrity Commissioner was submitted and accepted by Council that day. It prescribed pecuniary punishment and further disciplinary action should the behaviours of the Councillor in question not improve. Unfortunately, after the meeting, the Councillor defiantly stated in a press release that the behavior would not change. Hmmm … let me see … if I keep driving 80 km/h in a 40 km/h school zone, do you think I’ll get another speeding ticket?  OMG – no, you’ll get the Good Citizen of the Year Award!

Look, it’s like the old cautionary tale about arriving at a party more than a little tipsy. When the first person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” you might be able to laugh it off. When the second person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” you might be able to laugh that off too. But when the third person you bump into says, “You’re drunk. Take a taxi home,” … you’re drunk. Take a taxi home.

When a multitude of Councillors and Town staff are making the same observations about the negative behaviours of another member of their team, that member is clearly out of line. Apologize, change your behaviours, and become a positive member of the team.

The other thing that disheartened me for the future of an intelligent productive democracy were the appeals of the delegations to the qualities of the Councillor in question. They were classic nuggets:

“Defender of the taxpayer!” “Asks the tough questions!” “Champion of the little guy!”

Whoa … I’m getting that populist el-toro-pooh-pooh glow right now. Taking a trip to overseas conferences on the taxpayer’s dime and months later still not reporting back to colleagues or community on the learnings that apply to Peel Region and Caledon is not “defending the taxpayer.” Asking questions that are not informed or relevant is indeed tough … yes, tough to understand. Real champions do their homework, train hard, come to the game prepared to play respectfully, and fully support their team.

When a delegation blames the CAO, the Integrity Commissioner, and the other Councillors for their misfortune, it reminds me of Trump blaming his debate losses on the microphone, the moderator, and the other candidate being better prepared. Yes – he lost because the other candidate was better prepared! WTF! It’s like a student I once knew who complained bitterly during a graduation ceremony, “How come all the smart kids get the awards?”

The public delegations in themselves were redundant for one simple reason. The report of the Integrity Commissioner is final. Their attempts to praise the councillor in question, and blame everyone else for the violations of the Council Code of Conduct were absurd in the extreme. And the public delegations would not even have been on the agenda had not another Councillor, forgetting that you get known by the company you keep, held up the automatic acceptance of the Report, thus permitting the delegations to Spicer up the Council meeting.

There is a term to use when you get into trouble and blame everyone else and don’t accept personal responsibility – it’s called “narcissistic personality disorder”. It’s like those bully-boy pick-up truck drivers who park diagonally across two Accessible Parking spots, leaving the truck running on a hot summer day, so they can run into the variety store to pick up a copy of the Sun and some cigarettes. I’m so special. Yes, but the Accessible Parking spots are for the physically challenged

We deserve better behaviour from our citizens and our elected officials.

Like the old Trail Master used to say when the Conestoga wagons got stuck in the mud:   “Either get out and push, or get out.”

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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