Editorial – You’re kidding!

Jeff Burgar

Oooh, those Big Lakes County councillors sure have guts! That’s only one conclusion after a move last week by High Prairie town councillors.

Town councillors decided to play it safe. Be secure. Be careful.

And mostly, just cover their butts and skedaddle for the hills.

It all has to do with what is called the cheque list. This is a list that presents all cheques written by the town or the county as they make payments for all goods, services and supplies. Every penny town council spends is supposedly tracked on the list and visible for all to see.

Note: The only thing not on the list is payments for wages. By provincial law, wages for top people are made public in the annual financial statements.

The cheque list was visible last week, but no more in High Prairie. On Sept. 27, at their regular council meeting, council voted to stop making the list public.

There were mumblings about invading privacy and freedom of information. There was a recommendation from the provincial Municipal Affairs department, an agency noted itself for heading for the hills and telling smaller governments the less the public knows, the better off everybody is.

And of course, there was that last refuge of tiny-minded politicians everywhere, “Oh my gosh, we might get sued!”

So, one has to admire Big Lakes County councillors. There they go, thumbing their noses at liabilities and lawyers and the overpaid wusses at Municipal Affairs as the council carries on their quest to be transparent and accountable. They should be saluted.

Meanwhile, in High Prairie, councillors cower under the desks, scared witless.

Transparent” and “accountable”. Nice words tossed about during elections. But at the end of the day, they mean little. Five High Prairie councillors voted unanimously to suspend the cheque list. Mayor Linda Cox and Councillor Brian Gilroy were not at the meeting.

It has to be said, there are good reasons why the cheque list should be public information. As one example, take a contractor paid $50,000. A councillor paying attention might remember the contract was for $40,000. So they ask questions. Such a situation might seem silly. After all, there are well-paid people filling out the forms, doing the paperwork, checking over invoices and signing the actual cheques.

But the more eyeballs watching things, the better off everybody should be. That’s why cheque lists, and their visibility, are important.

Can one imagine courtrooms where judges routinely lock the doors, keeping the public out, because they are all concerned over the accused person’s privacy?

Of course not!

As is often said in our free lands, “Justice must not only be done. It must be seen to be done.”

The simple fact is, if you want your business to be private, then just don’t do business with a public agency dealing with public money.

Good for Big Lakes! Shame on High Prairie!

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