COMMENTARY: South Dundas’ war on transparency

Remember how South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde campaigned on a platform of more transparency and openness with the public? Well, she tried to shut down another line of communication between the public and the municipality this week as the good mayor didn’t want the media having copies of the background attached to the council agenda ahead of the council meetings.

Right now, South Dundas releases its full agenda package on the morning of the council meeting, giving the public and reporters a full day to review the material and, in the case of reporters, a chance to convey to the public what is coming up.

Under Delegarde’s proposal – like the county – the supporting documentation wouldn’t be released until the council meeting started at 7 p.m. Just a cover sheet with a bare bones explanation with what is to be discussed.

It’s funny how her seemingly-innocent last minute addition to the agenda happened right after CNW reported on a poorly worded staff report Tuesday of the upcoming council meeting that night. It was going to abolish a committee and saddle a newly-formed recreation committee with responsibilities it never wanted in the first place. Even a member of the committee, who showed up at the meeting after they found out from the media report, were surprised at what the council had planned. They were in the council chambers that night to clarify the situation. Recreation Program Coordinator Ben Macpherson told me he suggested abolishing the committee believing council could never go for it. What? Why would you even suggest something like that in the first place?

The frightening thing to ponder is, had we not done the story ahead of the meeting, would the committee have been axed?

Fortunately, despite Delegarde’s agenda, the rest of council had the good sense to keep the information flowing. Deputy Mayor Jim Locke said it was a chance for the public to see what was going on ahead of a decision. “What’s the problem with that. I don’t see a problem,” he said.

Delegarde tried to defend the suppressing of the agenda saying the committee knew the South Branch Community Fund was being discussed but “they didn’t read the details of what was being discussed.”

Coun. Archie Mellan wondered if the committee members would have even been there had it not been for Cornwall Newswatch’s coverage. Coun. Marc St. Pierre even suggested that the “word on the street” was that the public wanted to see more disclosure and information flowing.

Thank God the balance of power rests with the council and not the mayor because this latest episode speaks to a bigger issue with the top elected official being anything but transparent.

From being part of a South Dundas contingent with the chamber, which cooked up a last minute deal for a Renegade Bass championship that was passed through as a last minute agenda item, to having to file Freedom of Information requests just to see the township budget and now, having the idea to muzzle the information to the media, it makes you wonder if the constituents were just paid political lip service in the last election about open and transparent government.