LETTER: Kings County council dynamics can be improved by the chair

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An open letter to Diana Brothers, Warden of the Municipality of the County of Kings:

Certainly, there is more than one factor contributing to the often fractious dynamic on King County Council, a dynamic which inhibits much of the business of council. While it would be unfair to lay the blame for this fractiousness entirely at your feet, I feel that it might be useful to again bring to your attention an aspect of it for which you are responsible in the hope that it might help you improve the situation.

One major roadblock to improvement at council appears to be your approach to chairing the meetings. How much of this you are conscious of I am unclear, given that when I have offered similar observations in the past you have informed me that you are a skillful and fair chair and dismissed my concerns out of hand. But in fact, it is my observation that you seem to have a great deal of difficulty concealing your apparent bias against those councillors whom you seem to view as uncooperative and your bias in favour of those councillors whom you seem to view as allies. This may not be your intention, but it is certainly what you project through your actions.

The way in which this bias most often expresses itself is the frequency with which you editorialize, debate and undercut speakers from the chair. Most commonly, after a speaker has made a statement you disagree with, you will abuse your privilege as the chair and indulge in making remarks, sometimes at length, that contradict the speaker. Usually, you open with phrases like ‘Just for the information of the public …’ or ‘Because the press is here and I want them to have all the true facts …’ This happened repeatedly at the most recent (July 22) COTW meeting; I recall in particular an instance during the debate on affirming council’s support of Coun. Best on the airport committee, when you followed Coun. Van Rooyen’s comments with statements that contradicted her own, and then overruled her point of order in which she called you out for debating with her from the chair (which you clearly were doing).

This practice of debating and editorializing from the chair is completely inappropriate and undermines the creditability of your office. Whether you hold a bias against certain councillors or not is not for me to determine, but this practice of editorializing perpetuates the perception that you are indeed biased and erodes confidence in your suitability as chair. For this reason, I would suggest that the single most important thing that you could personally do to improve the tone of the proceedings at council is to improve your vigilance over your own behaviour and to stop using your privileges as chair to achieve political ends.

This is not to say that statements you believe to be untrue or opinions that you disagree with need go unanswered, only that there is a better process. You always have the option of leaving the chair to speak. I also think that it would be more political expedient for you to delegate the role of rebuttal to the deputy warden, to other councillors who are sympathetic to your position, or, when appropriate, to the CAO. They should be on the ball enough to get on the speaker’s list and offer a corrective view when they feel that is necessary; that is not your role when you are the chair. Changing this practice of editorializing will require some self-control and patience on your part, but I truly think that it would strengthen your leadership, not weaken it, and that it would boost the broader council’s and the community’s support of your role as warden and chair.

I realize that your job is challenging, and it’s my hope that such frank and honest feedback might help you become the sort of leader I trust that you desire to be, and help improve the quality of our democratic process here in Kings. I am addressing this in a public forum because I feel that it is important that we all help and encourage you, as a community, to live up to the obligations and responsibilities of your office. I would encourage all residents of Kings County to join me in encouraging you adopt qualities and practices of leadership of which we can all be proud.

 

Andrew Steeves

Black River

Organizations: Kings County council

Geographic location: Kings, Black River

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