As many will know and some will not, the North Grenville Times has a sister paper, the North Dundas Times. It’s safe to say that an ideal place to live when employed as the Editor of both papers is three minutes from the North Grenville – North Dundas border. Lucky me! I live on the North Dundas side but equal in distance to the hubs of Kemptville and Winchester. I consider both NG and ND to be “my communities”.
One advantage of being deeply entrenched in the day-to-day happenings and inner workings of both North Grenville and North Dundas is the ability to compare and contrast how the two municipalities are run from a local government perspective. This has been particularly eye opening lately, given the criticism of NG Council being leveled by many over the handling of the proposed apartments on the former Kemptville Public School land.
I have shared my own criticism recently, after watching a January Council meeting in which about a dozen downtown Kemptville residents raised valid concerns about the KPS apartments project, only to have related motions passed to move the project forward without any further discussion. I have also shared a defense of Council since then, not excusing members’ lack of communication or seeming to disregard public opinion, but at least sharing the logic of why Council wishes to move forward with the project on the advice of expert staff and housing studies.
I have taken criticism from a few locals for appearing to defend Council. My defense of NG Council comes down to the fact that NG and ND Councils are night-and-day, and NG Council is the better of the two by a long shot. As a person whose property taxes – and vote – go to the North Dundas side of the border, I am envious of the strong positive connection that NG Council has with the community. I always want to scream to NG residents, “Don’t complain, it could be worse!”
North Grenville residents have no doubt grown accustomed to seeing photos of Council visiting events all over the Municipality. NG Council makes efforts to connect with the community. Everyone is made to feel welcome. Even those who complain or level harsh words about Council (many of whom I have written about) still get treated like they are part of the North Grenville “family”, as opposed to an “enemy of the state”. It amazes me that I feel more welcome in the presence of North Grenville’s local government than I do in a simple email conversation with members of ND Council. If you think communication is lacking in NG, take a trip to ND for an unpleasant shock.
In North Dundas, there has been a feeling circulating for years that there may be an “inner circle” – that is to say, an attitude that you are either “in good” with the Mayor and Council, or you are an outcast who doesn’t belong in the community. There is nothing worse than feeling unwelcome by Council in a town where you have connected with so many fellow residents through your job, community activism, or even something simple like your kids’ sports. It’s confusing and frustrating.
When residents of North Dundas asked Council to be better at connecting with the community, even candidates during the election were quick to point out that the Council meetings are posted online, so people need to take responsibility for watching them. It’s safe to say that they missed the point. A couple of weeks ago, I emailed members of ND Council, inviting them to make submissions to the Times any time they wanted as a way to connect with the community. I received no answer from anyone, except one Councillor who replied three days later saying he does not “have the capacity to do the reporter’s job” – an obvious passive aggressive shot at me. I voted for this Councillor in October, and am horrified at the lack of professionalism he shows as an elected representative. It’s even worse not knowing what I did wrong to be treated as such. The Times is a platform that reaches everyone in North Grenville and North Dundas. What self-respecting Council member wouldn’t want to take advantage of that opportunity to reach constituents?
I can email Mayor Peckford a question and have a polite, professional answer that same day. Meanwhile, I have emailed North Dundas Mayor Tony Fraser several times in the last few months with never an answer. Other residents in North Dundas frequently have the same complaint, not just of the Mayor, but of all members of Council. I am grateful that North Dundas Deputy Mayor Theresa Bergeron has recently made contributions to the Times, including to the North Grenville Times for International Women’s Day, and I hope this relationship can continue to grow.
A French teacher in high school once took great pains to discuss with our class the Quebecois phrase, “pas pire”. It literally means “not worse” and is a common way to respond to a question of “how are you”. My French teacher was critical of the phrase, saying it is unduly negative to say that things are “not worse” as opposed to “good”. This is similar to the English phrase “not bad”. However, I think the phrase is appropriate when it comes to reminding North Grenville residents to appreciate the Council they have – ce n’est pas pire que le conseil de North Dundas.
There will always be complaints about local government on both sides of the border. The KPS apartments issue is one that certainly needs NG Council’s attention, and as readers will see, Council is giving it attention in this issue of the Times. Many will criticize me for standing up for NG Council, and it wouldn’t be the first time, but I know what it’s like to experience the unwelcomeness of a Council unwilling to learn and grow – a Council that makes me self-conscious to show my face in the same local stores where a dozen people have just said hello. NG Council is not perfect, but just know that it could be worse!