You many have noticed things are rather…strained…at Jasper Municipal Council meetings these days.
While perhaps not immediately apparent, anyone who has been viewing the public meetings over Zoom the last couple of months will have noticed an uptick in tension amongst participants.
Not being privy to the private, “in-camera” sessions that seem to take place more frequently than with Jasper councils past, it’s difficult to know exactly how we got here, but I suspect it’s not as big of a mystery as some might want to believe. People like to gossip about power struggles and ego trips and whose interests are influencing whom, but being (marginally) less cynical than those theorists, I’ll chalk up most of the friction right now to the uncertainty of living in a pandemic, a lack of effective communication and a desire to get things right.
I’ll chalk up most of the friction right now to the uncertainty of living in a pandemic, a lack of effective communication and a desire to get things right.
And really, what should we expect from our council and administrators as they dutifully log on each week to manage the future of our community during a world wide health crisis and recession? That they won’t make mistakes? That they’ll have all the answers? A municipality is not immune to the changes that have affected every business and household across Canada. Times are tough right now. We shouldn’t expect to get out of this storm without our boat being rocked.
Having said that, what steadies the ship on turbulent seas is its captain and crew. Undermine their leadership, question their capabilities, or disrespect the many responsibilities they hold and you’ll sow the seeds of mistrust. Not to put too fine a point on it, but when council repeatedly ignores the recommendations of their senior administration and places unreasonable demands on municipal staff, they risk having a mutiny on their hands. A ship—a ship in which we all sail together—won’t make its next port under those conditions. It may not even float.
That’s not to dismiss the pressures that come with being an elected official. They have the extremely difficult job of considering the interests of the municipality as a whole and then defending their decisions to all who disagree. And there are plenty of folks who aren’t exactly using Robert’s Rules of Order to let their views be known.
But then again, municipal councillors, like all public officials, have to be prepared to face uncomfortable criticism if they are making unpopular decisions. Particularly when those decisions have such deep ramifications; particularly when they go against the advice of the chief administrative officer, and the mayor, who, after two decades of service, has built considerable community capital among residents; and particularly when there’s no clear plan in place for stepping up community service levels now that Alberta has enacted its Phase Two strategic relaunch.
To sail the good ship Jasper into its next port will take efforts on all sides. But it’s incumbent on councillors to demonstrate a willingness to listen to their constituents, be genuine and transparent in their communications, and work to rebuild the trust and the relationships that have started to fray in our uncertain times. For as long as we share a community, we will always have many more commonalities to unite us than competing interests which divide us.
Bob Covey // email@example.com