Looking back at the years before this last term of Sarnia Council and administration, things have changed beyond recognition.
In the past, council functioned efficiently, administration knew their roles and worked within them, there was no need to spend over $400,000 on the services of an ‘integrity’ commissioner, councillors were not muzzled by a code of conduct and could speak freely, disagree, and express their opinions without the threat of violating a ludicrous ‘code of conduct’. Differences were resolved through discussion, not through costly ‘integrity’ commissioners and lawyers.
With the election of the existing council and the hiring of the city manager and her chosen staff, the situation changed. It appeared that the city manager thought it was she who ran the city. She surrounded herself with staff who did her bidding and had the support of a group of councillors who rubber stamped everything she put before them without question. While, unfortunately, citizens have no say over the selection of the city manager, they do have a say whether to re-elect a council who transferred so much authority to an un-elected employee at city hall.
Furthermore, this council implemented a procedural bylaw giving the clerk the power to decide who would be allowed to speak at a council meeting and to deny that right to anyone she did not want to hear.
The mayor’s ability to invite speakers who were not on the agenda was also taken away by this bylaw and the result is that several taxpaying citizens have been told that they are not allowed to address council.
With the disappointing and even appalling behaviour of city council and the wasteful spending of the last four years, it is easy to get caught up in the details, but as election day draws closer, it may be worthwhile to zoom out and look at the big picture and ask ourselves a critical question.
As citizens and taxpayers, what do we want from our city council and mayor?
Our elected officials are supposed to represent the views of constituents and we cast our votes based on who we think will best do that. Four years is a long time though, so in between elections as issues inevitably arise, it is important to have access to city council to voice concerns and ask questions. It’s also important that decisions regarding large amounts of funds and policy changes are determined by elected officials because it is they who are directly accountable when that election time comes. Moreover, living in a smaller city should bring the benefit of access to council and an increased ability to participate. Having 8 councillors for about 73,000 people is a privilege that should mean having a greater say and a closer connection to those who represent us. I do not want to be a ‘customer’ who may or may not be allowed to ask questions. I do not want to be barred from speaking at council meetings if I have a concern. I do not want to see tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars spent on petty in-fighting in city hall and, yes, I do not want my right to vote compromised through a foolhardy and unilateral decision to move to 100% online voting.
Consider the damage that has already been to the city in the last four years by over-reaching and over-spending councillors and decide if you want more of the same or a much needed change.
City hall is no longer a place that welcomes the public. Instead it has become a forbidding fortress – a wall was built, security cameras were installed and people lost access to their representatives.
What do you want?
If it is a welcome mat at city hall and a return to a citizen-focused style of civic governance, then I encourage you to learn who the candidates are, what has motivated them to seek a council seat and why they deserve your vote. Because there many names from which to choose, it is imperative to be an ‘informed’ voter. In my not so humble opinion, the majority of incumbents have been an embarrassment and a detriment to the city. They have imposed restrictions and obstacles that need to be reversed. Taxes are higher, services have declined, infrastructure is a disaster and there has been inadequate information provided to justify many exorbitant expenditures.
Voters have the option of choosing eight councillors but are able to select only as many as they wish. October 22nd is the day when you get to determine whether you are a citizen or a ‘customer’ and to make your voice heard. I urge you to use your vote to answer the question of what kind of city you want to live in for the net four years and beyond.
Publisher’s note: Bernice Rade is a former Sarnia City Councillor living in Forest.