I think Castlegar Mayor and Council owe a local family both money and an apology – not because of a decision made at last Monday’s meeting, but because of the way it was handled, which I feel was heartless.
To be clear, I’m a big fan of the sitting council, who seem to me to have a ton of heart. They volunteer relentlessly, are hugely generous with their time and money both, and I’ve always felt they have the best interests of Castlegar at heart.
Rarely have I been so upset at their management of a situation, as I am over the way they treated a family with pot-bellied pigs (see full story by clicking here).
While there are a lot of shades of grey in this, I actually think they made the right decision, despite the city employee’s error. Allowing this one exemption would be the thin edge of the wedge, inspiring countless similar requests from residents. Worse, I think it would leave some people with the notion that it’s best to go out and get the animals, then ask to be an exception after the fact (the it’s-easier-to-gain-forgiveness-than-permission perspective). It would be unfair and create a ton of discord and distress.
What really upset me is this: at least two councillors acknowledged how sad the situation was, and how awful for the family. At least two councillors knew the media had picked up on it, because we interviewed them directly after the meeting on the subject. I think it’s safe to say there were six men and women at that table who knew the decision would be hurtful, if not downright tragic, for the family involved.
How is it possible that not one of them had the compassion or empathy to ensure city staff, bylaw enforcement or a member of council itself, was either at the Lamonts’ doorstep or on their phone first thing Tuesday morning?
How could they possibly leave informing the family to the media (namely, Josh Hoffman at The GOAT and myself)? They knew it would be devastating to the family, they knew the media would be calling, how could they not acknowledge that this was NOT a business-as-usual scenario, and deserved a tiny bit of care and attention – like maybe the five minutes it would take to pick up a phone?
Media should not be in the business of personally breaking bad news – the decision, along with the rationale driving it, should have come from council, and I think it’s unconscionable that it didn’t.
And blaming city staff would be wrong – Phil Markin followed procedure expediently, penning the city’s written response first thing the next morning, as per policy. Staff’s job is policy and procedure – it’s council’s job to handle the personalities and the politics.
To my way of thinking, there is only one responsible, caring avenue left open to council. They have a special meeting slated for July 9, in camera.
They should add, to that meeting’s agenda, a motion to pay back every penny the city’s mistake cost this small, new family, to send them a letter of apology, and to find a way to distinguish between business as usual and agenda items that should maybe be treated with a bit more humanity, to ensure this sort of oversight never happens again.