Editorial – Blinds coming down or just a misstep

Jeff Burgar

It was not all that long, barely over four years ago, that candidates in the election for High Prairie town council were all posturing about “transparency” and “accountability.” It was a good line at the time. In fact, the past four years, councillors elected did a mostly decent job of letting voters in High Prairie know what they were up to.

There were a few strange items. For instance, dissolving the High Prairie and District Regional Recreation Board was supposed to be a done deal the past summer. Certainly before the recent election. The entire town council voted for the dissolution.

It still hasn’t happened.

Then there was the secret meeting that wasn’t really a secret meeting. Secret meeting? Well, it was a High Prairie town council meeting a few months ago. Attending were reps from Northern Lakes College, the High Prairie School Division, and the Holy Family Catholic Regional Division. Not attending were any members of the public or any media members. South Peace News was there. And was told the meeting was closed to the public.

Even though that was in fact an official, “in-camera” closed-door council meeting, it really wasn’t a “secret.”

An official of Northern Lakes College said after the meeting, “If you want to know what happened, just ask.”

And of course, every rep at the meeting reported back to their respective groups what happened.

Except for High Prairie council! Under municipal law, they can’t talk! It was, after all, a closed door meeting of their council!

Oh, well! Some days, transparency and accountability just gets trampled.

Last week, High Prairie council could not decide whether to send a letter to Marlin Schmidt, the minister of Advanced Education, the provincial government department responsible for NLC. The letter seems intended to say for the past two years, town council has lobbied for the old hospital site.

But, the letter also reads the college itself says it needs land ready by the fall of 2018 so construction can start.

And that’s the contents. Where is, as they say on TV, “the ask?” The letter will not be sent.

But, what will happen is this week, as council members are off to Calgary for the annual town and cities convention, Mayor Brian Panasiuk says they will “talk about it with the minister in Calgary.”

As several observers have already said, discussions about the college site, and even what will happen with the demolition and cleanup of the old hospital site, are matters for public hearing.

Not a matter for closed door meetings anywhere. Or even open meetings in Calgary.

Maybe we can all get a tape of the Calgary chit chat. Or, belatedly, as was said about the not-really-a-secret, secret meeting, “Just ask.”

Politicians never, ever spin a story.

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