Letter: Council critics fail to recognize the improvements made by the current lot

Dear Editor:

Regarding Barbara Erskine’s March 13 letter, strange how different Billings citizens view the current council. I think Mayor Anderson’s council is a breath of fresh air. Open, consultative, efficient (all the signs are that Billings’ budget will be finalized before the end of March – is this a record?) .

Ms. Erskine quotes Billings’ Accountability and Transparency policy 2017-41 states, good government follows the principle of:

“Encouraging public access and participation to ensure that decision making is responsive to the needs of the constituents and receptive to their opinions,” Township of Billings, Accountability and Transparency By-Law 2017-41, 3.0(1)

I’m glad that Ms. Erskine raised this point because I can remember the public and media getting a one-page agenda for a full council meeting, whereas council members received a hefty package that the public never saw.

Under Mayor Anderson the public has full electronic access to the package that members of council get (save any matters that must be discussed in camera). I’m surprised Ms. Erskine didn’t give the current council credit for this significant policy change. 

Ms. Erskine is interested in committees of council. I am blown away that she doesn’t credit this council’s improved accessibility of committees. The Municipal Act requires committees (as creatures of council) to publicly announce their meeting details, and be open to the public just like full council. In the past that was the theory, not the practice. 

Ms. Erskine states: “I am disappointed in some recent statements from self-labeled supporters of the current council.” A little context is important here. I wrote a letter using some of those terms. Two items provoked that. A few days before, Ruth Farquhar (who writes a weekly guest column about Manitoulin in the Sudbury Star) had written an article criticizing this council. (Ms. Farquhar seems to specialize in such group assassinations. The Star’s archives show an article from four years ago where Ms. Farquhar describes that council as the ‘worst ever’). The second item happened at a special meeting of council. Standard protocol at any council meeting is that meetings are open, but members of the public are observers not active participants. I asked Mayor Anderson if I could ask a question from the floor. He made a concession and agreed. I posed my question (really a clarification). The mayor responded. Unfortunately, that opened the floodgates. Ms. Erskine and several of the group with her, including Ruth Farquhar, then took the concession as permission to ask other questions including one particularly insolent one (my choice of word) to Mayor Anderson: “what do you think a Mayor’s responsibilities are?” In his shoes, I would have shut down this concession and got back to business. Mayor Anderson, being a diplomat and a gentleman, gave an answer which was straight out of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs guidebook for councillors.

In conclusion, I would make one final point. Critics like Ms. Erskine are free to use any means to comment on council performance and specific decisions. The real judgement on performance will come in October 2022 at which point she has every right to place her name on the ballot, and to let the full voter list decide whom they trust more—again!

Paul Darlaston