By Kirk Starratt
Coun. Patricia Bishop issued a written statement late last week to explain her unusual decision to move to the public gallery Feb. 4 during a county council meeting.
The District 10 representative waited for the Warden to call for comments from the public gallery. At that point, she stood and expressed her concerns.
“Did I do this out of disrespect? No,” Bishop said. “I did this because as a councillor my opportunity to express my concerns had been interrupted and taken from me.”
Bishop said her goal was to make a constructive contribution to the topic. She wasn’t trying to make a point, Bishop said, but was trying to complete her train of thought on the matter “because I could not finish a sentence without being interrupted or my mic shut off.
“I’ve been told that I am a disgrace. Is this because I believe my constituents deserve a voice, a voice that is professional, thoughtful and concerned about our community’s future?” Bishop said.
Former councillor Merrill Ward publicly expressed his disagreement with Bishop’s actions.
Later, he said it’s the job of councillors to ask questions from the circle and said he was upset that a councillor would get up before a meeting was adjourned, sit in the audience and take up time intended for citizens to address council during the public comment period.
“All that was was theatrics as far as I’m concerned,” Ward said.
He said the matter Bishop was speaking on, the advertising funding request from the chamber of commerce, had been discussed and agreed on with the organization. eHe said Bishop was disrupting council because she wasn’t up-to-date, having been away for several weeks.
Ward said there are certain councillors who seem to question everything the warden does and Bishop should have challenged the chair and called a point of order if she felt she wasn’t getting her full allotment of speaking time. Ward said anyone serving on council who isn’t happy being there should leave and let someone else do the job.
Bishop responded to Ward’s statement by saying it’s not the role she dislikes, but some of the difficulties within council. She added she is surprised Ward appears to not respect that she has been elected by citizens to represent and wonders why it doesn’t bother him and others when councillors aren’t permitted to complete their comments.
“But mostly, I just hear his opinion, take a deep breath, and move on,” Bishop said. “I am not perfect, but I sure do care a lot about making the right decisions for the right reasons.”
Black River resident Andrew Steeves was approaching the microphone Feb. 4 when the chairwoman drew the public comment period to a close. Steeves said he intended to strike a more moderate tone.
Read Steeves' letter to the editor here.
“I’m always reluctant to see things at a meeting end on such a sour note,” Steeves said. “I think the responsibility for good government is in the hands of everyone around the table.”
He said getting to a point that an elected official feels they have “to go to such a silly extent to be heard” diminishes us all. Steeves said he thinks we have the ingredients for good government but councillors have to take the responsibility seriously enough to work for it and put personal feelings aside.
Steeves said Ward was upset, with reason, but laid it at the feet of one person and “that wasn’t the whole story.”
When asked if she had ruled Bishop out of order for going over the allotted two minute time for public comments or for addressing council from the gallery after asking to be excused, Brothers said it was both reasons.
“I’m not sure a councillor can get up, sit in the gallery and speak during the public comment (period) whenever they choose,” Brothers said.
Brothers said agenda management is a major concern: a meeting could conceivably go on for more than a day, if every councillor spoke to their maximum time allotment on every matter.
In regard to Steeves not being able to make a comment at the end of the meeting, Brothers said she called three times for any more comments from the public before drawing the session to a close.
“I didn’t see him walking to the podium,” she said.
Brothers said the chief administrator worked with the chamber of commerce on the tourism advertising matter and pointed out that the organization is in support of council’s decision.
“I don’t understand the push-back on that item at all,” Brothers said.
Read about council's tourism advertising decision here.
To read Bishop’s written statement in its entirety, see the next page.