For those who haven’t watched the video of the July 12 Council meeting, I recommend you do so. For those without access to sufficient technology or patience to listen to what often sounds like mumbo jumbo to lay people – especially when there are almost five hours of it – the most important highlights are summarized in the front page article of last week’s edition of the Times. Hearing the impassioned words of those in the meeting, however, can better drive home the emotions that were running high on that day.
Perhaps the most dramatic part of the meeting was a comment – perhaps better defined as a “speech” – given to Council by a resident named Jesse. The meeting was not designated as a “public meeting” with time allotted for public comments on specific matters. Such meetings are required by legislation to take place regarding matters such as zoning by-law changes, but in the case of proposed by-law changes discussed on July 12, the public meetings had already taken place. Nevertheless, Mayor Peckford allowed Jesse to speak – and speak, Jesse did.
“Investment in the community is not made solely by developers,” he told Council. “It is made by the people who choose to make the community their home.” This general point formed the basis of Jesse’s thoughts – namely that those who live in the area of the Jack and Joseph Streets subdivision (and by extension, all of those who choose to live in North Grenville), should get a say in what kinds of developments are allowed. Specifically, Jesse was speaking in opposition of a zoning by-law amendment for that area which was set to be voted on shortly after his comments.
What was most striking about Jesse’s “speech” was the performance within which it was given. He repeatedly turned around and asked audience members for a show of hands in response to survey questions. He used a tone which was a often a mix of both passive aggression and sarcasm. And most significantly, he spoke as though Council was obligated to listen and obey.
“On April 12, you clarified that it was an information gathering session. Questions were not to be answered – the reasonable conclusion then, is that today on July 12, we as the public get to receive our answers. Questions must be answered before any decision can be made. To do so otherwise, as I’m sure you know, would be an absolute desertion of representation from your constituents. So I for one encourage you to host your healthy debate, as we are eager to hear the positions held by each Councillor on not just this issue, but the turbo boost of development that we can all clearly see taking place across our town and home. It is getting out of hand, and I have not seen or heard from one fellow community member that feels otherwise… Do not vote without debate! It is the lifeblood of our democracy, after all.”
Jesse then offered to host a debate between Council members regarding the housing issues before it, as though that is something that could ever or should ever be allowed. The irony of the situation was the misrepresentation of the balance of power. Council had no obligation to let Jesse speak at all, and when he was allowed to do so anyway, he believed he was in charge.
In Mayor Peckford’s response, she clarified (for a second time) that the meeting was not a “public meeting” for the purpose of members of the public registering comments on record about the proposed by-law changes, and she also noted that the Planning Act is very complex and a learning curve for all to understand. Deputy Mayor Barclay, who in the past has stated his fondness for the Municipality’s strategic plan since it lays out far more details and reasoning than could ever be covered in a few minutes of debate, also gave a reply, stating that preserving farmland is the reason why residential development must be high density, and why it must be located in Kemptville.
For the purposes of my own commentary, it matters not whether high density development is needed, and where it should be located if it is. The bigger and more important question is – why does there seem to be an increasing divide lately between residents of North Grenville, and their Council? I have a strong feeling that Jesse knew Council could not be pressured into meeting his demands, nor would he ever have been granted the right to host a debate amongst Council members. Nevertheless, he felt so strongly that he needed his anger to be on record.
The logical reason why Council is approving a huge increase in high density housing lately is because people love North Grenville. This community is a popular place for newcomers and they need to live somewhere. More people means more patrons for local businesses and a booming economy. Council therefore has good intentions but those who have long-held roots here don’t like their community changing so quickly. Who can blame Council for doing what it feels is right, and who can blame community members for wanting Kemptville to forever keep its Kemptville charm? Unfortunately for the latter group, progress only moves in one direction.
Oh time, wherefore art thou? If only there were more hours in a day for all in the community to sit down and discuss common goals. If only there was time for residents to understand the enormous amount of work that municipal staff put into researching their recommendations for Council. If only there was enough daylight each day for common ground. In truth, there is more common ground than we know, but the clouds of bureaucracy and the very-much “part time” nature of a Council member’s job often renders this common ground invisible.
Oh time, wherefore art thou? A lack of time and resources will always render it impossible for Council and residents to be as connected as they wish to be. The Jack and Joseph Streets motion was defeated in a 3-2 vote. Residents were heard, but not in one night, and not just one man.