Time for town hall meetings

Inaugural meetings are always nice affairs. It is an opportunity for returning and new councillors to read aloud their declarations of office. After being elected way back on Oct. 22, it’s the first time they see that brass plaque with their names and councillor written on it. They get to sit at the council table. It is also a chance for their family, friends and supporters to join in the celebrations.  The mayors make their inaugural addresses, a bit of a look back at what was, and a look forward, to what may be. Councillors can speak, too, if they want. Then, there’s usually lots of pictures, a public reception or a meal in or out.  Highlands East is holding its inaugural meeting today (Thursday, Dec. 6). Dysart et al kicked things off with an afternoon meeting this past Monday. Minden Hills held theirs Monday night and Algonquin Highlands during the day Tuesday.  Each of the inaugural meetings, like their townships, was different. For the most part, the focus was positive with lots of platitudes. And that’s great … for an inaugural meeting. However, the real work begins from today.  Algonquin Highlands is holding a projects and priorities special meeting this morning. It’s the kind of thing Dysart et al Mayor Andrea Roberts has also been talking about. Dysart councillor John Smith touched on it, too, at the inaugural. He said it’s essential they sit down at the beginning of the term and document their priorities. It is. Just as someone would not launch a business without a business plan, no council can embark on a four-year-term without looking at its priorities and projects for 2018-2022. This should be the first order of business for councils.  In Minden, they’ll be having a public meeting Dec. 17 so people can look at plans for the refurbished S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena. This project has proved controversial in the community, so it will be interesting to see what comes of this meeting. It will be a bit of a feet-to-the-fire affair for returning and new councillors.  Each council has both shared and individual challenges moving forward. Collectively, there’ll be prickly environmental decisions. The province has made it abundantly clear that it’s looking at our landfills, and the spreading of septage. There’s also climate-change related decisions that will have to be made, especially in places such as Minden with its past flooding. The emergence of blue-green algae on an AH lake earlier this year is another concern that should be shared by all, especially when septic re-inspection programs are finding less than stellar results.  And, the short-term rental debate, shelved by a number of municipalities up to now, will have to return. Other looming issues include a shortage of housing, crumbling infrastructure including roads and bridges, and the need for expanded Internet coverage. During the all-candidates debates sponsored by the local news media, a number of councillors commented on the usefulness of the question and answer portion of the debates. Some even suggested that councils should hold town hall meetings. We absolutely agree with that. We look forward to seeing these added to council rosters in the new year. Let’s face it, unless people are appearing for a specific item, the general public does not attend council meetings. Part of the reason is that they are held during the day. The other reason is apathy. In the same way, public meetings are often missed. It wouldn’t hurt councils to hold town hall meetings every three month or every six months to better engage with the public.  There were a lot of platitudes this past week about better communication with the public, but talk is cheap. Let’s see some action on this.

Get The Highlander in your inbox every Thursday