Friday, March 31, 2017

Stella learns about money, politics and double speak.

Thirteen year old Stella Bowles has sure learned a lot in the past couple of years.  After discovering that raw sewage is contaminating the Lahave River, she petitioned her local government to take action.  Her perseverance paid off.  After decades of inaction The Municipality of the District of Lunenburg (MODL) took the first step to clean up the river and created a program to help home owners with the cost of replacing the straight pipes with septic systems.

MODL's  program benefits only one portion of home owners along the Lahave.   Straight pipes are illegal, but laws without enforcement are ineffective.  The province will only enforce the law if there is a complaint and most people don't want to complain about their neighbours' straight pipes.  So, the problem persists. Raw sewage keeps pouring into the river.

Stella could have put her feet up and gone back to being an ordinary kid, but some kids are just extraordinary.  She understood that there was a simple solution.  If the province of Nova Scotia enacted legislation to require a septic system be installed when a property changes hands,  the straight pipes would eventually go away.  Hardly seems controversial.  

So, Stella wrote to Margaret Miller, Nova Scotia's Environment Minister, and asked her to consider this legislation.  The following is an excerpt from the response that she received.

"NSE has approached the Registry of Deeds in the past to discuss the recommendation of provincial legislation that would require the correction of straight pipes during a property transaction, but the recommendation was not supported due to the potential impact on the sale of properties."

Now that paragraph is just chock full of lessons for a thirteen year old...

Lesson one- People might not buy a property if they have to abide by the law and if we make them obey the law they might not like us anymore.  If they don't like us anymore they might not vote for us.

Lesson Two - Money is more important than the environment.  Sorry, Kid, tough lesson.

Lesson three- If you want to be a provincial leader you will have to learn how to stupify your constituents.  Say things like "The OSSDS Regulations govern the installation of on-site sewage systems, and require certified individuals to design, select and install systems in Nova Scotia. Land owners are responsible to maintain proper function and maintenance of their on-site sewage systems under the OSSDS Regulations"

Right, Stella already understands this perfectly. That's why she wrote to you. The law requires people to have properly functioning septic systems.  Straight pipes are illegal.  But a lack of enforcement (leadership) is causing the problem to persist.  She presented a perfect solution, but the province doesn't want to make waves.

Time for the province to girl up. You can read Stella's letter and the official response here and stay tuned for Stella's upcoming science fair project on April 6th at the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre in Bridgewater.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Lunenburg Speaks Up.

 Here are a few of the comments from the petition to Lunenburg council.  Because this is a small town, it's difficult for people to openly express their opinion, but the fact that so many people have already done so is really amazing.   I guess people do care about basic democratic principles.  One of the most heartening things about this petition is that many of the signatures and comments are from young Lunenburgers in their twenties and thirties.  Our future.You can still sign the petition by clicking HERE

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Can We Choose Deescalation in Lunenburg?

We have a problem in Lunenburg.   One councillor is giving the other councillors trouble.  He has now been kicked off all committees of council, including those that are integral to making good informed decisions.  The town is divided.  We have been here before.  Is there any way that we can take a deep breath and consider a new way of handling conflict?

Here's the deal in a nut shell.  Brian Davis has concerns about some of the processes of council.  Is anybody outraged yet?  If you are, please pause and consider that questioning a process is not a heinous crime.  Questioning an administrative process should not solicit outrage.  If you disagree with that statement, well, we may not be able to find  common ground, although we can probably still talk about children, dogs, the beauty of Lunenburg and the wonderful pastries at the Farmers Market.

If you agree that questioning a process is not a heinous crime and is not worthy of a call for  resignation then let's continue.  Brian is a new councillor and he came on too strong.  You can't simply walk into an organization and try to restructure it.  My husband once tried to tell me how to sew labels on my hats.  Ask him how well that went over.   Now this doesn't mean that Brian doesn't have any valid concerns or observations.  I think he has plenty of valid concerns and some of those concerns have been backed up by a strong legal opinion.  But he went about trying to address these concerns in a way that made it difficult for council to proceed with the business at hand.  He used the council chambers as a court room and he is not a lawyer.  It was not a good strategy.  I think he knows that and is sorry.

On the other hand,  if Lunenburg Town Council/adminstration views themselves as welcoming to new perspectives they might only be communicating with those that agree with them.

If either side comes to the table and says we are right and you are wrong then we are deadlocked and that's pretty sad.  A lack of willingness to question oneself is a terrible quality in a leader.  If we put aside egos and personalities and pride we might find a way to listen to each other.

But I'm going to interrupt this conversation to mention democracy because this is the real issue here.  Lunenburg Town Council is a democracy.  There are fundamental principles of democracy, like we vote people in and we vote people out.  We cannot silence the voice of someone we don't like or who is a pain in the ass.  You can do those things in a business, but not in a democracy.

So, there's the conflict.  Lunenburg council is indeed a workplace and it's a good thing to try to find a way to work together, but it's not a business.  In a business you can fire someone or demote them.  In democracy you need to find another way forward.  That's why they say democracy is messy. You are stuck with each other.

I see valid frustration on both sides.  But still..... democracy.  Calling for a councillor's resignation because he made it difficult to proceed is kind of silly.  There are people that voted for Brian and want him to stay.  All the councillors represent the people. You can't internally decide that one of you no longer will represent us.  That's our job and we'll do that in a few years.  Every once in a while it is legitimate to call for a councillor's resignation.  You call for a resignation when a councillor has been caught embezzling or having an in camera affair or some other such thing where their moral capacity is called into question.  Nobody should be questioning Brian's morality.  He has that stuff in spades.  Kicking him off of important committees is, simply put, undemocratic.  It's silencing the voice of an elected official.  That's as wrong as wrong can be.  In three and a half years the people of Lunenburg will get to decide whether they are happy with the jobs that the councillors are doing.  Until then, please find a way to work together.  On one hand, obstructionism is not a good vehicle for change, but on the other hand, bullying is a terrible response.  Get help.  Try mediation....or medication.  Leave your egos at the door.  You all owe it the citizens of Lunenburg to find a way forward without a big legal mess.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A Petition to Lunenburg Council - Reinstate Brian Davis Back to the Committees of Council

The Chairman of the the Nova Scotia Law Society on Municipal Review provided Brian Davis with an official legal opinion regarding his removal from the committees of council.  In her opinion, she felt that council exceeded the authority granted them by the province by removing Brian Davis from committees that are integral to his core decision making ability as a councillor.  She also felt that the constituents of Lunenburg are being deprived of elected representation in matters considered in these committees.   As a citizen of Lunenburg, I feel that my rights to elected representation in these committees are being violated.  If you feel the same please sign the petition.  Click HERE to sign.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Lunenburg Council Meeting - A few items on tonight's agenda

Just browsed through tonight's council agenda and I noticed a few things that might be of interest to the residents of Lunenburg. 

1-  Council is being asked to approve the contribution of up to $620,152 for exterior work to the Lunenburg Academy.  As a resident I would like to understand this expenditure.  It is a large sum of money.  Will this affect our tax rate?  If we are spending this much money is there still money in the budget to install the bio filter (odour control mechanism)  in the Waste Water Treatment Plant? This money is for the exterior of the Academy. What happens when the paint chips off again?  Is this an ongoing expense?

There may be a perfectly sound plan, but as a resident I would like to hear the details.

Our existing bylaw that states that council times are at 7:00 on Thursdays is being repealed.  This is the policy that will replace it.  This is the very first item on the agenda.  There is a public hearing at the beginning of the meeting, so if anyone has an issue with council meetings taking place when most residents cannot attend please show up and have your say.  If you cannot show up because of the time then feel free to email me a letter and I will submit it to council on your behalf.

I have two concerns with a 5:15 meeting time.  Firstly, it is a difficult time for residents with jobs and parents of school age children.  As such, it limits civic engagement.  

My other concern is that this council time prohibits the vast majority of residents from running for council. We should be striving for a diversity of ages, gender and perspectives on council.  We cannot achieve this goal if we exclude people with jobs. 

This is from the minutes of the last council meeting.  It describes the motion to remove councillor Davis from all committees.  A few things concern me.  It confirms that councillor conduct was discussed in camera.  Can councillor conduct be discussed in camera?  I don't recall that being one of the permitted items listed in the Municipal Government Act.  I am also concerned that there is such an issue being made regarding Councillor Davis' offer to resign.  This offer was made in the heat of the moment, in a private conversation with the mayor. Is it right for the mayor to disclose the contents of a private conversation to the press and the rest of council?  If disclosing the contents of private conversations with the mayor is in fact the right thing to do I'd really like to know that.  Asking for a friend.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Silencing Communication Never Works

After questioning the transparency of the town,  Lunenburg Town Council has voted to remove Councillor Brian Davis from all committees of council.   The majority of council wants Brian to resign, but since they have no legal right to demand his resignation they have voted to silence his voice using any means available to them.

Silencing communication is never the way forward.  Two way communication is the only way to resolve conflict.  Silencing a voice that wants to be heard will always backfire.  It creates animosity, anger, frustration and division. Ultimately, when one wants to be heard they will find a way.

We recently saw this phenomena with U.S senator, Elizabeth Warren when she was prohibited from reading a letter from Coretta Scott King .  The senate found her voice threatening, so they pulled up an old law and used it to prohibit her from addressing the senate. What did Elizabeth Warren do?  She went out in the hall and posted a video of herself reading the letter.  It went viral.  The senate took away her microphone and handed her a megaphone.

When the Town of Lunenburg excluded me from the committee that had been established to discuss the very issue that I brought forward, they chose silencing over communication. They took away my microphone and handed me a megaphone.

Brian Davis is asking many questions regarding council procedures.  All effort is now going into silencing Brian Davis' voice.   They are taking away his microphone and inevitably handing him a megaphone. 
When will they ever learn? 

The next council meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday February 28th at 5:15.  Please come and support Brian.  Taking a stand takes great courage.  Taking a stand is a very lonely experience.  He needs the presence of his supporters.  See you there.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Anonymous Love Letters

Last week I went to the post office and found a hand written letter in my box.  I was pretty excited.  I miss letters.  Well, I opened it and wouldn't you know it, it was a hate letter.  It was silly and delusional and signed, "A Lunenburger"  I do know who wrote it because after sharing it on Facebook someone had a signed letter with the same hand writing.  Really, I feel sorry for this person.  I would recommend taking up knitting.  Put beauty into the world.

But speaking of beauty.... Today I went to check the mail and there were two more letters waiting for me.  My first reaction, of course, was, Oh God, get a life.  But I opened them up and wouldn't you know it, they were both anonymous love letters.   I won't share the contents, but to whoever wrote them...I love you.  You are sweet and caring, you made me smile and you are the Lunenburg I focus on. Love trumps hate.

There is one particularly charming part of this story.  All three letters were addressed to Anna Shoub, Lunenburg.  No PO Box, no street address.  Is that not the best?  I do love this town.