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OP/ED: Mayor and council should either abolish Question Period or start taking it seriously

Something happened at the most recent Castlegar City Council meeting that has me very, very upset.

A member of the public attended and waited hours for Question Period, at which time she came forward asking for some assurance that the potholes on Columbia Avenue would be fixed soon.

Mayor Bruno Tassone asked for clarification as to which portion of the thoroughfare she meant, and she related the following, stunningly-humiliating anecdote:

She – a prominent member of the community and a local church - had been driving down Sherbiko Hill, swerving to avoid potholes and remaining construction issues on Columbia Avenue. She noticed an unmarked police car behind her and, sure enough, when she stopped at the lights at the bottom of the hill, she was pulled over and (based on her swerving) issued a roadside breathalyzer test right there in front of heavy traffic on the city’s busiest street. (For the record, she doesn’t even drink..)

She tried to see the humour in the situation, but expressed her incredible embarrassment and was moved to tears more than once while relating the story.

Now, by my lights, the situation is certainly not her fault – wanting to protect the undercarriage of your car is just common sense. Nor is it the cop’s fault, as it’s his job to mark and investigate behaviour such as what appears to be erratic driving. It’s not even the city’s fault, as they have undertaken an ambitious and necessary infrastructure problem, and ironing out all the details can take time.

Where I find big fault, huge fault, massive fault is in the appalling way mayor and council treated this woman during Question Period.

Bear in mind, all seven elected officials at that table ran on platforms of transparency and community engagement/communication. I know because I voted for more than half of them based on those promises – I’m not grinding a personal axe, here.

But I sat in that meeting, watched a much-loved and respected member of the community relate a truly harsh experience, and saw her ask not once, but twice, in tears, for some sort of reassurance about when/how/if repairs would be made.

And was utterly ignored and sent home empty-handed.

The CAO and former director of Public Works Chris Barlow was sitting right there, as was current director of Public Works Lucas Pitts – but they’re not supposed to speak up without being directed to do so by the mayor or councillors.

Any one of those – our – seven elected officials could have turned to either of those knowledgeable senior city staffers and asked for some sort of timeline to provide the reassurance that was requested of them. A simple question. toward someone sitting right beside them.

Not one of them did. NOT ONE.

They just let her relive the humiliation and sent her away with nothing but an apology from Councillor Sue Heaton-Sherstobitoff – cold comfort, that. Her question went ignored and unanswered.

And this is not the first problem we’ve seen there - they also remained utterly silent weeks ago while Question Period was used for an anti-gay, anti-poor-people rant.

So I ask you this: Where is the communication, the transparency, the representation they promised during their campaigns? It surely to God wasn’t there during those meetings.

Why bother having Question Period at all, if you feel no responsibility to answer even the simplest questions asked?

I think all of mayor and council owe that woman a deep and sincere apology – and a very clear, specific timeline on Columbia Avenue repairs.

I also think they need to really look at the promises they made, at how horribly they broke them that night, and how they can do better in the future, or they might as well abolish Question Period right now – it appears to be doing far more harm than good.