This week we witnessed a kerfuffle on town council, where three out of six acclaimed town councillors roasted two others for speaking to the media in the lead-up to an election.
Section seven of the town’s code of conduct policy states “All Members recognize the responsibility of the Mayor to accurately communicate the decisions of the Council, even if they disagree with such decisions, in order to foster respect for the decision-making processes of Council.”
During the meeting, the argument made by Couns. Alana Mero, Kurt Wainman, and Clarence Wood was that now-former Deputy Mayor Paul MacDonald and Coun. Ray Solotki violated that rule by telling me their concerns about council settling on four meetings a month, many of which last less than 10 minutes, and taxpayers could be better served by longer, less frequent meetings.
These three councillors also say Coun. Dez Loreen violated section seven by telling me he felt town council “dropped the ball” on the Gateway Sign, but according to Wainman and Wood — and Mayor Natasha Kulikowski — it’s not as bad, because Loreen was speaking “off the cuff.” Wood even went so far as to suggest “the public didn’t have much problem with it either,” even though Solotki and MacDonald were both communicating concerns they’ve received from voters in an “off the cuff” manner themselves. To Kulikowski’s credit, she also suggested Solotki spoke to me out of a misunderstanding of the rules.
A second issue for the three councillors was the criticism levied against town administration. It’s frequently noted in this space town staff don’t get nearly enough credit for the work they do and I stand by that, but that doesn’t mean they’re infallible or town decisions can’t be criticized in hindsight.
While I can appreciate the town’s desire to protect its staff from upset members of the public in the post-N36 world, like justice, democracy must not only be carried out, it must be seen to be carried out.
It’s unfortunate council chose to handle this the way they did. Loreen, Solotki and MacDonald were all asked what their electoral intentions were during the interviews — they were effectively laying out their platforms for the fall election. To carry forward a point made by Yellowknife Councillor Robert Slaven on our webpage, the comments they made seemed accurate and fair, and no one was personally attacked.
Because of this public shaming, councillors are going to be far more reluctant to speak to the media in the future.
This current council, now down to six members, was acclaimed because there was little interest among the public in running and situations like this may explain why.
If being a councillor only consists of joining a meeting for eight minutes, rubber stamping administration’s decisions and collecting $600 a month, and speaking to the news media in an election year about potential ideas for change is met with hostility and shut down, what exactly is the point of being there other than extra cash?
Clampdowns like this do nothing to make council appear open or inviting. If councillors contemplating a second run can’t even present ideas to the media for voters to consider, there is no avenue for change. Anyone who was thinking of putting their name forward for office this fall is likely second-guessing themselves this week.