Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Council Meeting Fireworks

The following summary of tonight's St. John's Council meeting was written by Sherwin Flight.  

Here's a basic rundown of what happened today at City Hall.

- At the very beginning, Mayor O'Keefe had everyone in the room stand for a minute of silence for the victims of the recent school shooting in the U.S. He talked about how safety is such an important thing, something we all need to focus on, and how the world just wasn't what it used to be. (More on this later)

- The first thing on the agenda was Councillor O'Leary's motion to "stop payment" on the harbour fence. She, as many others, doesn't believe public money should be spent on a project involving a federal government property, especially since they have indicated they would be able to build the fence even without public money. Deputy-Mayor Duff seconded her motion to allow it to be discussed.

- Councillors O'Leary and Deputy-Mayor Duff expressed concerns that the intended use of the fence had changed since it was voted on by council. When voted on the project was supposed to replace the current ugly fence, with a nicer looking fence, but the use was to remain the same, only restricting access on an as-needed basis. Recently more information was made available that indicated the use of the fence would in fact change, and would permanently restrict the public from access to the area. O'Leary also objected to the fact that public money would be used to build a fence to restrict public access, a notion she disagrees with.

- Rather than discuss the fact that this is a waste of taxpayers money, the rest of Council (Other than D-M Duff) decided to change the topic to avoid discussing the financial issues regarding this proposed fence.

- While the discussions were going on it became clear to the people in the gallery that Council was showing a complete disregard for the public, and so people started making comments, and correcting the inaccurate information being provided by some councillors.

- At one point Councillor Tom Hann started making personal attacks against Councillor O'Leary, and was pointing his finger in her face. The public didn't take too kindly, and so comments were made to let him know that his behaviour was not acceptable. On one occasion Councillor Hann decided to give some people in te gallery a "dirty look", for lack of a better phrase, which he continued for close to a minute. 

- Throughout this entire time Mayor O'Keefe was constantly telling the public that they were not allowed to "speak to the floor", although it did little to stop the comments.

- While Mayor O'Keefe had the floor to talk about the motion being presented, he started talking about safety and security again, and about how we live in "different times" now. This lead one person to stand up and say that he found it disgusting that the Mayor would bring up the case of the recent school shooting to lead into his discussion of security. This person left the meeting, stating something along the lines of "there's something wrong with you guys", referring to City Council.

- The motion to "stop payment" on the fence did not get any support, besides Deputy-Mayor Duff.

- Deputy-Mayor Duff then proceeded with her own motion, for the city to co-host a public information session along with the St. John's Port Authority. Given that so much public money is being spent on this project, holding such a meeting seems like a no-brainer.

- However, Council still voted against that motion as well, which lead people to comment that Council was willing to spend out money, but not allow us to have a say, or get to as any questions we may have. Again Mayor O'Keefe tried to quiet things down.

** Blogger comment:  Sherwin forgot to say that before the second vote took place, Mayor O'Keefe ejected everyone from the public galleries under threat of arrest, even the majority of people who weren't speaking. The escalation in heckling happened after this.**

- At this point the public was enraged, and comments were being made. People were standing up and saying what they had to say directly to the councillors on the floor.

- These comments continued for several minutes, with people making very valid points. After numerous attempts to get things under control the Mayor finally announced "meeting adjourned", and everyone was asked to leave.

The amount of disregard towards the public that was shown at this meeting is what lead to the comments being made, and had council at least been willing to address the concerns of the public things may not have erupted the way they did.

It was disgusting to see a group of people (councillors) stand up and say the things they said, to the point where one had to question whether the councillors on the floor were really representing the citizens, or if they were representing someone else's interests. Personally, I don't believe they are representing the concerns of the residents at all, especially given they couldn't even support the idea of allowing the public to meet with the city and Port Authority to discuss the concerns people had. How can someone spend close to $500,000 of taxpayers money, but not think the people paying those taxes deserve even a few minutes to ask questions?

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