Notes from the Rafters; This Week’s City Council Meeting Recap

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If this council is a TV drama, this week was season 2, episode 3. Like The Wire, there was massive cast turnover between the seasons and it seemed like it was about to jump the shark but then … real human conflict started to creep back in and the white characters you couldn’t tell apart at first begin to develop.

While this season may not go full hair-pulling Coronation Street drama, alliances are forming and spines are proving strongish, and there is friction and work being done. There isn’t (yet?) a Peter Barlow/Stringer Bell this season to make your skin crawl, but even a conflict of “good” guys can make for excellent drama.

Childcare Drama

Speaking of drama, the meeting began with a sleight-of-hand reminiscent of the serial short adventures that used to open feature films. Last week we all saw our hero chased straight off a cliff! But this week, we see that what looked like a fall was actually, from another angle, a near-miss and there he (or she in this case) is holding onto a ledge just beneath the cliff’s edge and ready to swing on a vine over the ravine to fight another day.

Deputy Mayor Sheilagh O’Leary wanted to amend the minutes from the last meeting to show that the “debate” that played out over this past week was about providing childcare at evening public meetings for staff, councillors, and the public, not just for staff and councillors as the minutes said.

Now, technically this is true, “as it played out” over the radio and on twitter all week “the debate,” as reframed by councillor Burton, included childcare for the public. But amending the minutes to reflect what happened through the course of the week and not actually at the meeting is … well … [insert skeptical noise here]. Because at last week’s meeting O’Leary requested staff look into the feasibility of childcare for staff and councillors. She may have meant “and the public” but that is not what was said.

However. Settle down there critics, don’t salivate yet. Asking for a feasibility report is hardly a massive policy demand, and changing the initially proposed concept to include the public is an evolution of an idea, not a gaff.

If you take anything away from this, please let it be “let’s look into the feasibility.” Because then all the hyperbolic debate can just go fizzle itself. Whether you love city sponsored childcare (for a random few hours a month) or you hate it (which seem to be the only possible two sides here, passionate lot ye), so far it is just an ask to do a little brainstorming, maybe a handy cost analysis.

When we get that, then council can see what is feasible. IF it is feasible, THEN you guys can all jump all over yourselves to make sure Ted Blades knows how hard you feel about it as moral outrage/overdue progress. Since when did “lets get some information on that” necessitate an avalanche of beliefs? God damn it, you guys get your long underwear in a bunch at the drop of a radio mic.

Did the internet do this? Or democracy? Did everyone on both “sides” watch that Southpark episode about the Prius and think, yeah! I can smell my farts and love them too! Why does every barely formed practical thought have to lead to a righteous political/social opinion? And why are there always sides? It is like we are playing capture the flag whether we want to or not.

I am going to steal the stupid flag and fly it from the Southside Hills and make you all hike up there together and then whoever is up there first has to hand out tiny funeral sandwiches to everyone else and that’s it. No one wins, but everyone gets a pile of tiny sandwiches. You don’t even have to like each other or think the person next to you is raising their kid right. Just hike, sandwiches, hike, then home. That’s all there is. Hiking and sandwiches for the misogynists and warriors and racist nans and sweet nans and men in bicycle spandex and that furry in a h’edge basketball jersey.

But no. Instead of tiny-sandwich-hiking (my new hobby) there was a protest in repose to a few asshats saying troll-spew and we ended up with a “kid-in” where everyone brought their kids to the council meeting tonight. Which was cool because it inadvertently showed how you can look at this issue in a number of different ways, and none of them make you a monster.

You can say, “Hell yeah! Look at all these people (all is subjective … there were a handful at most) who have kids who want to engage and wouldn’t that be great to support democratic engagement by alleviating some common barriers, especially those that disproportionately affect women and people without babysitting money?

On the other hand, look how you can simply bring your kids with you to a public meeting that doesn’t even have childcare. And it’s free, and it gets them used to the idea of engagement and it reminds the people in charge of the meeting what their constituents’ lives look like. And probably you can look at it in a bunch of other ways too that are all basically okay even if conflicting.

So it was, unintentionally, a pretty nice and illustratively unifying “protest.” Or it could be. If we let it.

Bureaucracy of Democracy: Everyone Has a Go at the Barely Released Elections 2017 Report

And about that Democratic process, The city tabled the Election Report for the 2017 Municipal elections. According to Breen’s interpretation, the “voter list” was the biggest challenge. Or it was, until all the new councillors started paying super close attention to everything, and now they may be Breen’s biggest challenge.

Cllr Froude pointed out that they were not “adopting” the recommendations put forth in the report yet, just putting them out for public feedback.

Mayor Breen said yes, but that they did “adopt” the report as a document with those recommendations inside it. But if it would make Froude feel better they could say “accept” instead of “adopt.” It did.

Cllr Burton corrected the Committee of the Whole (COTW) minutes saying they discussed “ranked ballots” not “ranked voting,” and Cllr Hickman wanted it on record that they did not discuss moving the elections to “late October/early November” as mayor Breen mentioned, but only “late October” with no reference to November at all.

Cllr Lane asked if they were still debating the motion.

Cllr Hanlon said that Australia has 94% voter turnout since they instituted a $20 fine for not voting.

And Deputy Mayor O’Leary is “anxious to hear back from SeniorsNL” who are doing in-house polling.

The Mayor, completely ignoring Australia, pointed out that the report will be sent out to all the city Advisory Committees to begin the engagement process.

Cllr Korab’s Party Planning Committee

The Mummers’ parade will be on December 9th and will take a new route this year since the province hasn’t yet fixed the ceiling in the Bishop Feild Elementary School gym (or even really done the work to be able to say how and when they will fix it).

George Street is throwing an “all-ages” New Years’ Eve Bash complete with “pyrotechnics.” All youth under 16 must be accompanied by an adult and no liquor may leave the premises. So chug it before you head off. Duckworth Street will be closed for a bit that night to make room for the “pyrotechnics.” “Pyrotechnics” sounds way more exciting than “fireworks.”

That night there will also be a concert and rival “pyrotechnics” down by the lake. Also all-ages. My god, at least we still have the “adult only” locker rooms at the Y.

Turn Turn Turn: Flowers and Snow Removal and … Parking

Breen says it’s nice to start thinking of spring as we head in to winter and council approved money for the “installing and maintenance” of annuals. Then they approved two new front loaders for snow clearing.

Cllr Froude agrees we need them (the front loaders), but points out that it is the city’s increasing “footprint” that gave rise to the need, and suggested they “take time to recognize this new expense added [by]sprawl.” Thereby missing the chance to use “expense” and “expanse” in the same sentence.

The council approved the sale of a parcel of city land to the owners of the adjacent lot at 799 Water street. The lot will continue to be used for parking. Hickman points out that the motion erroneously says the land for purchase is 799 Water St, when in fact it is next to 799.

Mayor Breen says it will be correct on the deeds and manages not to freak the hell out at everyone for nit-picking the hell out of everything at this meeting. But just barely.

Go-Round

O’Leary loves annuals but wants to put forward for consideration using some perennials, like Lupin, that thrive with minimal care in our climate. So look forward to a twitter war about bulbs versus wild flowers this week.

Froude and O’Leary are liaisons for the Environmental Advisory Committee which meets for the first time on Tuesday. They will begin work on a wetland policy, the absence of which has been bemoaned lo these many years by past councils trying to make development decisions in variously categorized “wet” lands.

Cllrs Burton and Froude each read a statement they had crafted to express dismay at the lack of transparency during the budget process for 2018 that they just completed. They are “uncomfortable” with the lack of “transparency” and “engagement” this year. I had a bunch of things to do the past few weeks so I am basically okay with it.

Cllr Lane and Mayor Breen conceded this 2018 budget was done without engaging the public during the process itself, but Breen defended this by saying there was certainly plenty of public debate over the budget generally in the September election cycle.

Both Lane and Breen pointed out this was the final year in the 3-year budget cycle and that cycle was initiated with a lot of engagement and public consultations.

Breen further noted that the timeline was collapsed a bit this year, because the new council had to be brought up to speed on everything and then the budget had to be done all in two months.

Cllr Hickman said the Basketball games over the weekend were full of excited crowds and that, though we are known as a “hockey city,” we are really more of a “sports town,” and maybe we should get a volley ball team next.

Cllr Hanlon: says the Rennie’s River East Traffic Pattern Review should be ready for the COTW on December 13th.

Cllr Jamieson said hello to all the kids in the gallery calling them out by name, even one who wasn’t there yet. He walked in a few minutes later with his mom. Cllr Jamieson may have spooky powers. She then reminded everyone of the anniversary, on December 6th, of the École Polytechnique massacre. She brought it all together with the recent #metoo campaigns on social media and pointed out the depressing statistics on violence against women in our province. She urged a cultural shift through individual and institutional action.

Cllr Collins disagrees with Cllrs Froude and Burton on the budget process and thinks “the public had lots of time.”

For more details I missed or skipped, check out Happy City St John’s Twitter feed. David Brake was tweeting for them this week. Cheers!

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Emily Deming

Emily Deming is involved in a love affair with St John’s so deep it extends to attending plays, poetry readings, and dance festivals.

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