The four councillors who issued a press release calling for members of the City of Thompson’s administration to resume attending committee and council meetings despite that fact that there may be some uncomfortable questions and ongoing harassment and disrespectful workplace claims, can’t always be accused of knowing that you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, but that doesn’t mean they are wrong.
The city hasn’t held committee meetings since late October, prior to their last organizational meeting. Apparently, it has already been agreed that reverting back to a committee of the whole meeting structure, rather than the multiple standing committees that have been in place for at least a decade, is the preferred way forward. Despite this, such meetings have not taken place. According to councillors Jeff Fountain, Duncan Wong, Les Ellsworth and Earl Colbourne, this is because department heads refuse to attend meetings with the councillors and/or provide them with requested information about planned purchases and departmental operations.
Although they are almost never attended by the public, in part because they often occurred at inconvenient times in the middle of weekdays that made it impossible for many people with jobs to do so, committee meeting are actually where much of the work that councillors do gets done. If proposed resolutions or bylaws can’t achieve consensus among the voting members of a committee, they don’t come to council and have no chance of taking effect. Getting through committee doesn’t mean they will be approved by council as a whole, but failing to do so means they definitely won’t be.
Councillors or even the mayor cannot directly order department heads to make themselves available for meetings. The only employee under the direct control of the council is the city manager. But the city manger is the boss of the department heads and should be able to direct them to attend committee and council meetings or be disciplined for failing to do so.
It is difficult for people in positions of authority, such as city department heads, to have their actions questioned without it feeling like they are under fire and any time a councillor crosses the line into personal attacks, the subject of such an attack is well within their rights to launch a disrespectful workplace complaint. Launching such a complaint however, is not a shield against answering future questions, nor should it be. Department heads are people who have been entrusted with making decisions and those decisions can have a major impact on the lives and tax bills of the City of Thompson’s residents and business owners. Questioning those decisions, understanding the rationale behind them and even critiquing whether those were, indeed, the best decisions in the circumstances under which they were made are all relevant questions that deserve answers. In sports, there are good and even great team that might have players who really dislike each other on them. But if they put aside those differences, they can sometimes achieve unexpectedly good results. City administration and councillors don’t have to like each other, they don’t have to get along, but they do have to respect each other. It doesn’t serve the residents of Thompson – you know, the people who really sign the cheques – if one or another of those groups decides to walk out of the game and take their ball with them because they don’t like the tactics used by some of the other players. There’s plenty of work to be done before the next municipal elections. Its time that it starts getting done.