Agreement on arena scandal action crumbles into acrimony as council meeting comes to a close

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
February 2nd, 2013

“I had an ah-ha moment last week in an email exchange with a citizen,” Coun. Kathy Moore said during Members’ Reports, towards the end of a three-hour council meeting on Monday evening, and just before council adjourned to an in camera discussion on labour relations.

Moore argued that part of the problem that exacerbated the arena scandal is the “culture of council” to defer to staff without question and to strike defensive postures when talking with citizens.

Her comments ignited a heated response from Coun. Cary Fisher in particular, but also Coun. Jody Blomme, and Coun. Jill Spearn, who Moore mentioned directly in her comments.

Moore began, “I believe council has been manipulated into being a very dysfunctional group, against our own better natures—because I agree with Coun. Fisher, we are good people.”

“Part of this is that we’ve been encouraged to unquestioningly trust our professional staff. This attitude has been taken to extremes and we’ve had some unfortunate results,” she said.

“And here’s the perfect example. Coun. Spearn, I’m not picking on you,” Moore said, “but I’m going to use you as an example.”

Moore quoted from a response Spearn had given to one citizen’s letter on the arena issue: “You said in part: ‘I was blindsided, because…I trusted staff to give us information if something was awry. We were reassured that it was fine. I, unlike K. Moore, took the high road and believed what I was told. Silly me, that would be my Canadian upbringing.'”

“Now,” explained Moore (a citizen of both Canada and the US), “I don’t believe Coun. Spearn came up with the idea that questioning staff was not only taking the ‘low road,’ but was also ‘un-Canadian.’ But I think this attitude is extremely dysfunctional.”

“I’ve seen it around the table,” she said. “Personally, I have been used wrongly as an example of how not to behave as a councillor many times. And by everyone accepting that message and rarely saying anything against that message, council’s been silenced.”

“After all,” she said, “who wants to be treated the way I’ve been treated by this group and others? I think that what ended up happening on this was that my views on just about everything—from the arena to the contracting, to the hiring, to everything else—has been discounted as the ranting of a troublemaker.”

“To be compared to Laurie Charlton,” she said, “to be told I’m a liar, to be told I’m a rogue councillor, to be told all these things that have come out of various people at various times, that’s not a good thing.”

“I think we’ve become a very insular group, and we listen mostly to ourselves,” Moore said. “I think that’s dangerous. I think there’s been a lot of defensive posturing by council when we talk to citizens, those of us who do. And granted, not all of us do, I think that’s part of the issue.”

“We’ve got this culture of silence,” she said, “We’re not questioning staff, we’re not being candid with people. I want us to think about this and see if we can’t somehow reset the way we deal with each other.

“I know, I know, you don’t believe any of my apologies are sincere, we’ve been through that Cary,” she said to Fisher. “I do believe that we’re all good people and we all care deeply for the community, but I think we’ve done a disservice over this past year.”

Coun. Cary Fisher won’t swallow it

“Can I please make a comment?” Fisher said. “You had a motion supported today, you had everybody on council talking about moving forward, and then you hammer this stuff again?”

“Perhaps the distrust or dislike or whatever you want to call it, is well-founded. How can you trust someone when you talk to them in private and then they come to a meeting and do what you just did again?” Fisher asked. “And you do it all the time.”

“I gotta tell you,” he said. “I came to this meeting totally open-minded, let’s go ahead and get things going, let’s make things better. Then, here you are again, smacking people around, and I’ll speak frankly: you’re just not a team player.”

“I’ve been on plenty of teams. I want you to be a team player,” he said. “I’ve coached a million people. But you’re an independent person, by yourself, and you keep hammering away at us. I imagine we’re all going to keep doing the best that we can for the city, but at some point you’ve got to say, ‘Okay, look: spoke to the RCMP, doing the Delegation Bylaw, [inspecting the arena].’ But it wasn’t good enough.”

“And now you’re stepping on people again. So, I don’t know, I’m not going to sit here and swallow it.”

Moore responded, “I appreciate support one evening out of the year.”

“You’re doing it again,” Fisher said, “you’re doing it again.”

“But it’s true,” Moore said.

“You’re doing it again,” Fisher said, “it’s almost embarrassing. To me, it’s almost embarrassing. Truthfully.”

“People have said, ‘Okay, we’ve made a mistake.’ I said it in public. And you’ve said nothing about that. You didn’t say anything. You didn’t say, ‘Oh, well, great.’ All you do is come back and do this,” he said.

Fisher voted against Moore’s motion two weeks ago to apologize to Rosslanders for the way council has handled the arena scandal.

“If you actually want to work together, then accept what people have just done and say, ‘Okay, I want to move on.’ That, what you just did, that’s not moving on. That’s just pouring salt in the wound,” Fisher said. “Come on, it’s not even adult.”

Coun. Jill Spearn feels pity

“I’m not defending what I write,” Spearn said, “because I believe, fundamentally, that I’m different because of my Canadian upbringing. And I say that to my American friends, and we have good debates and disagreements. I fundamentally believe that.”

“It’s obvious to me tonight,” she continued, “after going through all this stuff as Coun. Fisher just said, that you have to pour that out: poor, poor pitiful me. I feel embarrassed too, and I regret that you have to do that. I guess I feel sorry you have to do that, actually. It’s kind of pitiful. If that’s the way you need to do it, then go ahead.

“I’m tough, and you know I’m tough. And I’ve sat here and agreed with you and disagreed with you and everybody else, and I’m okay with that. And I’m actually pretty confident in who I am,” she said.

“What do you want from us?” Spearn asked. “I’m a team player, and most people on council are team players. And if you can go out and read about being a team player, learn to be a team player, then maybe that would help all of us.”

“I’m not going to get into a big name-calling thing, because sometimes it’s just personalities, sometimes it’s beliefs and values, and sometimes it’s how we present ourselves. What you want to do when you bring that up—and I don’t even care that you brought up me, because, whatever—that does not help your cause.”

“And you certainly shouldn’t be bringing up private emails at the council table. But I’m okay with it,” she said. “I don’t have a problem with it.”

Coun. Jody Blomme has no favourites

“There’s so much to talk about there,” Blomme said, “but to try to condense it, I find that I’ve long-since decided, coming into this I decided, it’s my role, my job, to take every situation that comes to council individually. And I feel strongly that I do.”

“It’s our job to disagree with each other so that we entertain all sides of every situation. And to disagree with each other functionally. And then to walk away from here as a group,” she said.

“I was voted in to think as an individual but to work as a group. And I feel comfortable that I’m doing that. Each one of you here, I’ve disagreed with at times, and I’ve voted against at times, including staff, including the mayor. But, each one of you I’ve also agreed with.”

“There’s no favourites,” she said. “I’m not more likely to agree with Coun. Moore as Coun. Wallace, because I prefer Coun. Moore or something. That doesn’t come to bear. Every situation is dealt with separately, we have a responsibility to do so, and I think we all do so.”

“I don’t understand why you think there’s some campaign against, I don’t know—that it’s some kind of popularity contest,” Blomme concluded.

Categories: GeneralIssuesPolitics

Other News Stories