COMMENT: Is it time for Laurie Charlton to leave council for good?

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
September 29th, 2011

For some he’s a watchdog, for others he’s a pain in the you-know-what, and for those of us in the media he’s a darn good story. We can always count on Coun. Laurie Charlton to pull off some obstreperous stunt that people want to read about.

This grand-standing politician just loves attention. Perhaps, Mr. Charlton, you’ll even love the attention I give your performances here. No Oscars, I’m afraid, this review’s not so hot.

Many of you remember this photo. Who accuses the CAO of libel in public? And then does it again after public repudiation?! Even if the accusation were well-founded—I found the evidence thin at best—a councillor with the public interest at heart would deal with this behind closed doors first. Take him away, bailiff!

Few institutions impact our day-to-day lives as much as city hall, and the election is coming soon. Effective community leadership depends on good candidates who, when elected, do a good job for the community.

I put it to you: what will you look for in a candidate when you head to the polls? Has this council done a good job? More to the point, has Coun. Charlton helped or hurt our community?

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m firmly in the camp of “It’s time for Laurie Charlton to hang up his hat and enjoy a well-deserved retirement from city politics.”

Perhaps I’ve earned two cents of opinion after sitting through a year of council meetings, keeping my trap shut and my eyes open. Perhaps I haven’t earned a rusty penny. I’ve only lived in this town a scant two years and I can only speak to what I’ve seen.

Above all, I think Laurie Charlton is a wonderful man and I like him. He’s highly intelligent and holds a vast knowledge of history and local lore. His warm, genuine smile emanates from a gentle heart. He’s got character, he’s got balls, he’s got a big love for this town, and I can see why he’s been elected term after term.

I’ve heard it said that Charlton is “the watchdog of Rossland,” our stalwart protector against the wolves of development, the bears of bumbling incompetence, and the cougars of cunning and corruption.

However he may have served council in the past, I haven’t seen these fairy tales play out. But I’ll tell you what I have seen.

Take the Sept. 19 committee-of-the-whole (COW). First Charlton wanted to eliminate “swine” from the rural-residential zone. (I thought, “Is there a single pig in Happy Valley? Isn’t that farm land? Quit hogging time.”)

He talked at length about their “reputation” until the mayor asked him to make a motion or move on. His motion was met by resounding silence. And we moved on.

Charlton got right into the next one: ten minutes wrangling with unimportant minutia on secondary suites that has already been strangled to death at multiple COWs. The mayor forced a motion. Again, it was defeated without a nod.

It’s an old routine: Charlton gets on his pedestal and winds himself up. Everyone listens patiently. Too patiently, I think as I plead to the heavens for the mayor to finally say, “Make a motion, councillor.” And the motion is defeated.

My notes show that Charlton made seven more motions at this meeting, each preceded by a lengthy speech. Three were defeated without making it to the table. The other four received a second from Coun. Andy Stradling — to hear staff’s opinion on the matter, he said. All were defeated six votes to one. And then time was up.

We have excellent councillors and they understand the issues. It’s not that Charlton’s onto something big that everyone else has missed, it’s that 95 per cent of the time his point is irrelevant or unimportant.

It’s really too bad Charlton couldn’t play ball with the team and focus on his five per cent of really excellent ideas and keen observations. But batting 0.050 doesn’t keep you on anybody’s roster. He goes out swaggering like Babe Ruth, kicks the dust off home plate, points his bat to centre field … and strikes out.

When the mayor’s patience wears thin—he gets red and huffy—that’s when Charlton gets positively bubbly. The mayor cuts Charlton off for the sake of expedience and Charlton squawks foul, waggles his finger, “point of order” this and “point of order” that, talking over everybody.

It’s not actually a point of order. It’s a point of personal gratification. The whole time Charlton accuses the mayor of bullying he’s grinning around the room. One assumes he’s chuffed that proceedings have stalled (again) and that all the attention is focused on him.

The mayor’s problem isn’t bullying. My complaint is quite the opposite: I wish the mayor would more actively direct council to stay on topic and get to the point. There’s business to attend to, important business, and meetings with seven opinionated Rosslanders need firm facilitation.

Laurie Charlton’s got pluck. I have a strong image of him burning the midnight oil as he pores over minutes, bylaws, contracts, legislation, blueprints, and more. During the day I envision him strolling the town looking for bylaw compliance and hiking the watershed in search of evildoers. He’d make a great ombudsman.

Even better, he’d make a great advisor to someone new on council. I challenge Mr. Charlton to step into the background, to take his many talents and put them to more positive use building up the next watchdog, hopefully one with less bark and more bite.

Categories: Op/EdPolitics

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