PENTICTON - City Hall has quite the series of plot lines going these days, with lawsuits, legal threats to citizens, complaints from residents and rallies outside on the street.
Mayor and city councillors have taken a lot of heat from the media and public, whether it’s about vote results, a development project, or the use of tax payer dollars. And yes, it is fair for them to be scrutinized from time-to-time when appropriate—they did sign up for this, after all.
But when is it appropriate for the public to question the authority and decision making of senior city staff members?
Well, never is the right time, according to some council members and of course staff themselves.
This week it was revealed the city took legal action against 76-year-old Elvena Slump, who had the audacity to complain, question and point fingers at city manager Annette Antoniak, among others. She said—as others have—Antoniak seems to hold an inordinate amount of power for a city manager. Slump responded to the legal threats by holding a press conference on the steps of city hall and read aloud a letter from the city's lawyers essentially telling her to shut up and apologize for her attack on staff or face a lawsuit.
Then councillor John Vassilaki—now a mayoral candidate—went before the media and said he and councillors had no idea one of their voters was being targetted by staff and their lawyers. Only current mayor Garry Litke was aware and apparently approved of the action which, according to him, is simply the course of action one takes when staffers feel harassed.
So what's next? Are cease and desist letters on their way every time someone makes a city public works joke about leaning on a shovel? Are we supposed to just say nothing when the city's finance manager makes a mistake calculating school tax requisitions? Sorry. Just like city councillors, you all signed up for this as well.
But of course we should save most of our criticism for the mayor and councillors we elect. If a city manager—a fairly new one—is figuring out the reins of the city and pushes some boundaries and bruises the noses of some councillors, who is to blame? That's the mayor's job to figure that out and push back if needs be. If councillors are in the dark about city business, we expect them to figure it out, not complain about it. Power is easily displaced only if leaders are weak in the first place.
We vote in and vote out mayors and councillors. They decide if a city manager is in or out and the manager decides if their staff are in or out. Simple as that. But no one at city hall—no one—should expect immunity from irate taxpayers, whether it's about community gardens, snow removal, taxation or major spending decisions.
Take the legal threats against the outspoken citizen. Couldn't the mayor himself have found a different solution than threatening a citizen? How about try to mediate? Call your own press conference and tell people the buck stops with you? Help people understand how the city works. That's leadership.
That there is so much controversy and complaining about city hall lately is probably a good indication of how well they are doing. The question is what are they—and what are you—going to do about it?
To contact the reporter for this story, email Meaghan Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-488-3065. To contact the editor, email email@example.com or call 250-718-2724.