City council meetings do not provide an environment conducive to free expression of opinion, some city council candidates — both incumbent and new — are saying this week.
“Council should be a place where you can bring ideas or bring a different perspective,” Ward 3 Coun. Lee Atkinson said.
“We should try and listen to everyone’s idea as having merit, and the chair of the meeting should be fostering dialogue and discussion rather than trying to shut it down.”
Such was the case during the Sept. 10 city council meeting, when both Ward 8 Coun. Ted Zurakowski and Mayor Jim Scarrow publicly criticized Atkinson for holding fewer committee appointments than others on council.
“I was shocked, actually, that that came forward,” Ward 5 Coun. Cheryl Ring said — not because the details of their criticism weren’t accurate, but because it wasn’t relevant to the discussion at hand.
“I should have spoken up at that time … but sometimes you stand up in that council and you’re the one, then, that everybody turns on.
“But, I do wish that I had stood up and said something, because it’s been nagging at me ever since, because it was really just so out of order.”
“I’ve been on the record about council being dysfunctional,” Ward 2 Coun. Greg Dionne said.
“The other night, when the mayor and Coun. Ted Zurakowski belittled Lee Atkinson, that is not the first time that has happened.”
On July 13, a special council meeting was held to deal with the city’s street oiling program.
Due to Ward 1 Coun. Charlene Miller’s opposition to the program based on environmental concerns, the item didn’t pass during that week’s regular city council meeting, necessitating the special meeting.
"I apologize to you, the sole individual who held up the paving of streets of the City of Prince Albert and resulted in us attending this special meeting of council at a considerable change to personal agendas," Scarrow sarcastically told Miller while chairing the July 13 special meeting.
"So, for that I thank you."
Looking back on the meeting, Miller said that if she were put in the same position in the future, she’d do the same thing.
“It’s legislation,” she said. “We can do what we do — not grant leave (for third reading). I did it and I’m still proud today that I did it … That’s part of our job.”
Sometimes, the dismissing of councillors’ opinions comes in a more subtle way, Atkinson said, such as certain councillors rolling their eyes or putting on a confused expression while another person on council speaks.
“That methodology is a matter of (being) divisive — trying to not understand the point,” he said. “They use that kind of funny look, and whatever the idea or desire is dismissed.”
We should try and listen to everyone’s idea as having merit, and the chair of the meeting should be fostering dialogue and discussion rather than trying to shut it down. - Lee Atkinson, Ward 3 councillor
Leading up to the Oct. 24 election date, a number of candidates new to council are using today’s dysfunctional council as a campaign point, in hopes of fostering a more positive atmosphere in council in the future.
“I feel that they’ve been nitpicking on stupid little things that don’t matter — you went to this meeting or you didn’t go to that one,” Ward 8 candidate David Koester said. “Where does that matter? What are you deciding on?
“They don’t respect each other, and if we don’t respect each other … we’re not going to get along — ever.”
Today’s divisive council must end, mayoral candidate Dean Link said.
“It is divisive, and nobody should be embarrassed or debased at a council meeting like what happens on occasion. Everyone’s deserving of giving their opinion — we’re not robots, we all have an opinion.
“We are going to be turning a new financial page where there’s going to have to be huge amounts of money spent on infrastructure … We’re going to have to make some very tough decisions and I think it’ll be very important that we get along and go forth after discussion in a united way.”
Though sometimes slammed by some members of council for how she votes, Ring said that she’s never felt pressure from council to vote one way or another.
“I’m hoping that the voters in my ward see that, and I hope that’s why I get re-elected — because I vote with integrity. And the bottom line is, I have to live with myself at the end of the day,” she said.
“There are times that I put my hand up, put something forward and I know that I’m the only one that’s going to vote in favour for it. I know there are two or more hands out there that know I’m right, but they’re not going to put their hand up for it.”
Although a handful of people both on city council and running for positions on council cite dysfunction in council chambers, Scarrow said it’s all part and parcel of democracy.
“They have varying opinions and that’s what we want,” he said.
“They’re all well intentioned. Very seldom are they hurtful for the sake of being hurtful.”
Scarrow said that council has never missed an important vote, or voted negatively on any important issues that truly matter.
“You would not want a single-voice council ... and simply having people disagree doesn’t mean you have a poor council.”