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Aug 27 2011

the Corporate Nature of Municipal Government – part one

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Unlike the Federal and Provincial Governments – a Municipal Government is a Corporation and that may explain why some local Councils appear to have no conscience.  Living breathing people have entirely different needs than a Corporation so perhaps it’s not so strange that the voting public can be amazed and upset by the actions of people they elect.

In seems odd that the nature of Municipal Corporations have been overlooked in the exchange of a vote. Municipal elections are fought on the grounds of creating community, human relationships, families, schools and the happiness factor. But what are we really voting for?  A Corporate entity is not known for respecting the benefits of friendship.

The following 3 part blog is the result of many hours of work by many people who tried to understand how the idea of community became lost in the search for a prison.

Background:
Almost three years ago, Lumby Municipal Council began secret negotiations for a prison here.  Then, after the Mayor became the MLA and six months after his Councillor became the new Mayor – the prison idea was brought to public attention.

Using the media, Lumby’s new Mayor trivialized community objections by identifying opposition as a ‘knee jerk’ reaction while characterizing support with statements such as “the ‘reasonable’ person who can see the benefit will be a strong proponent.”

“I think everyone will have a knee-jerk reaction at first. But the reasonable person who can see the benefit will be a strong proponent…”

Conflict escalated until bullying became the norm.  The prison idea created the largest ongoing conflict ever experienced in this community.   As the facts emerged, we discovered that this proposal would put the largest prison ever built in BC into the smallest community ever to have a prison.   Are we to believe there is no connection between the Federal agenda for ‘big prisons’ and ‘tough on crime’ legislation and a local Council installing a big prison in a village of 1600 people?

Before the public consultation, Lumby Council met privately with unelected business’ and ‘community leaders’,  some of whom would likely derive an economic benefit from the prison.   A public meeting was staged and described by the media as a sales job.  A straw vote was taken and the tally was used by the Mayor as a mandate to pursue information.  He admitted that he had no concrete facts so unsubstantiated speculation (opinion) was published and circulated throughout the Community as fact.  Much of that ‘fact’ was proven false when the government eventually released a `fact sheet’ on the proposed prison however, there is no accountability for first impression unsubstantiated opinion that stayed within the community as ‘fact’.

It was widely understood that the first meeting straw poll opposed the prison but the Mayor said the vote was about 50/50 and claimed it as a mandate to get information about the prison.  Six months passed and we heard in the Media that the Mayor was looking for a prison based on the straw poll numbers that had somehow increased to 55%  in favour.   Later we learned that the straw vote carried no legal mandate for Council and no consequence to Council for using it as one.

Council asked for community input.  Petitions and letters were sent to Council and the Province. A protest rally and community meetings were organized by local citizens who overwhelmingly opposed the prison.  Council meetings were attended and videotaped.  The bulk of opposition was never entered into Council Minutes.  There was no obligation for Council to report community opposition or even listen.  The legal obligation was merely to go through the motions.

Eventually the Province sent officials to a public forum and Council held an opinion poll referendum.  Council was not obliged to follow the vote one way or the other.   But when the majority of residents in the larger community cast 727  ‘NO’ votes, Council decided the marginal win of 113  ‘Yes’ votes in the smaller village referendum was enough to go ahead with their bid for a prison.

Almost three years ago, Lumby Council with no elected mandate for a prison began in-camera meetings and secret discussions even though a prison held no place within the Official Community Plan (OCP).  What we now know is that Council can, by legislated authority, discuss, plan and negotiate anything in secret.  Their only obligation before implementation is to consult but there again – Council is not obliged to accept the result of consultation.   In fact, a Local Council can draft secret resolutions to impose vastly unpopular agendas (do whatever they want) as long as Council considers it ‘beneficial’ or ‘significant’ to the community.   Wow! Who would have thought such a thing possible?

 

Part Two – (next post) – Extraordinary Authority exercised by Local Councils – statutes of limitations, exceptions and excuses contained in the Local Government Act– marginal or non existent accountability.

 

 

 

5 comments

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  1. Kim

    Crossposted at my site. Go there and read comments. Please respond to janfromthebruce,who seems to think that there is legal recourse.

    http://sistersagesmusings.ca/2011/08/28/the-corporate-nature-of-municipal-governments/

       0 likes

    1. admin

      Posted on Kim’s website

      Janfromthebruce
      August 28, 2011 at 8:40 AM

      Kim

      School Boards, like Municipal governments also follow corporate regulation. That said, one needs to look at municipal councils’ “bylaws” that are their governance rules of operation of municipal business.

      Boards and municipal councils can only conduct “business” in “private” if they are talking about what we refer to as the 3 ps – personnel, personal, property. The rest is considered public, and would contravene their bylaws because they are beholden to the public.

      If they held private meetings about a jail bid, prior to passing a board motion to pursue such a open and accountable to public municipal act” motion, there is legal sanction available to the public. In other words, legal recourse.

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      1. admin

        Hi JanFromTheBruce,
        Thanks for your note – I’d love to hear your ideas on recourse.

        I have it on good authority (RCMP) that here in BC “Legislation bestows a trust to our elected officials that permits governments at any level to undertake discussions in confidence.”

        The words “any level” are quite important and I’ll be posting more on that later today.

        In regards to “private meetings” held “prior to passing a board motion” – Friendship and conversation can’t be regulated and nor should they. What happens at the golf club or the local fair in friendly gatherings are an important part of living in a community. Closed meetings are the problem and in BC closed meeting allow almost anything – literally – the legislation ensures there will be no accountability.

        Apparently “local residents” came up with the prison idea before the in-camera resolution but there are no records of discussion on this topic prior to the in-camera resolution. It just came out of the blue – kind of like an inspirational in-camera moment between three Councillors (one acting as Mayor) because the Mayor stepped down to become the Provincial MLA and the other Councillor stepped down to run for new Mayor.

        In the matter of the decision – Council’s only obligation to the community appears to be “public consultation” and the outcome of that consultation carried no legal weight in Council’s decision. If legislation actually fulfilled the promise of openness and transparency and accountability – BC would be quite a happy place to live.

        We have been told that legal recourse is at the ballot box, therefore it’s in the interests of all BC communities to understand what we vote for before we head into the next election. The Province has given authority to local governments that far exceeds our understanding of what’s possible. Legislation that excuses and exempts and defends secret meetings and unaccountable decision making is not what we expect but that is what we have.

        Looking forward to more discussion – thanks and please stay in touch

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  2. Kim

    Thank you Priscilla for opening this conversation. I have become very worried that;
    A) Local municipal governments have become partisan and biased towards right wing ideologies.
    B) That the concentration of news outlets in this province are interfering with public discourse.
    C) The erosion of civil rights in this country is accelerating under a cloud of Harper rhetoric.

       0 likes

    1. admin

      Apparently, we are not alone Kim – here is another link on this topic: http://insidelangford.ca/2009/09/08/new-bylaw-will-grant-langford-officers-and-inspectors-the-right-to-enter-your-home/ It’s time the BC electoral citizens start networking for our homes and families and friendships. We must reject conflict and take back our communities.

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