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Change is sometimes a bitter pill to swallow

Posted on July 17, 2014 by Sunny South News

Municipalities often struggle with public consultation with residents on important issues. A non-dysfunctional relationship is necessary between a municipality and the people it is supposed to serve.

Recently, the Town of Coaldale has indulged in negotiations to switch policing service. Presently, Coaldale is served by the Lethbridge Regional Police Service (LRPS). The town has expressed interest in working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) for future policing service in the community.

Should a town council listen to residents or at the very least inform the populace on decisions that will affect the entire community before everything is said and done? Or is a town council elected by the people to make the important decisions, so residents don’t have to worry or make those hard decisions?

Many questions prevail regarding what future policing in Coaldale will look like. There are those who will say LRPS has provided exemplary service and there are those who believe a new service might be in order. Either way — you can’t please everyone all the time. That’s just the way it is.

Right now, there’s a certain degree of service provided by LRPS and the schools in the community have a School Resource Officer (SRO) — an invaluable contribution to keeping schools informed and safe. Will a new service provide the same? Only time will tell. The ball has begun rolling in the process of the Town of Coaldale looking into a new Sheriff, if you will, in town. Will town folk shout “Yee Haw” or will citizens revolt?

Again, citizens went to the polls and cast a vote for councillors and a mayor to examine information and make the right choices for the community, day in and day out. But… perhaps a vote, by the people, could assist the powers that be in deciding what is right for the future of Coaldale — perhaps a plebiscite. Other municipalities have done it in the past. Or is that a harsh reality for some to accept?

In today’s society maybe democracy could use more citizen involvement. Or maybe not — perhaps it’s not broken. Again, it depends on who you ask.

Every government these days — whether local, provincial or federal — talk about being transparent and accountable to the electoral base. Being proactive is the key to being open and willing to discuss important issues of the day.

Many municipalities discuss important issues behind closed doors or “in-camera” during council meetings. These “in private” meetings are sometimes necessary but should not be over-used. As outlined in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or FOIP, council can only go “in-camera” to discuss security, legal matters, personal matters or labour relations. So, in reality, a council discussing a police issue would be best suited for “in-camera” for some aspects of the issue.

At the heart of the Coaldale matter or any other municipality with an issue that could use the public’s input and/or for information sharing purposes — being proactive instead of reactive is good business. When a hamlet, village, town or city discusses issues affecting the entire community, the community should be a part of those discussions. Yes, a council is elected and a municipality’s staff is hired to do what the people expect — to do what is right and what the people want. There comes a time when democracy needs to be dusted off and let the people take the steering wheel or at the very least, chip in for some gas for the rest of the trip. Public consultation is something a municipality should foster. It only helps the sometimes sinking ship sail smoother, without having to use the paddles to stay afloat.

In 2014, transparency is important for business and politics. A good public perception is good for the pocket book and at the polls. It helps keep the wolves at bay, so to speak. There are some in a community that make it their life’s work to shake up the local political scene and stir up trouble in the name of public good. There are others who are apathetic and don’t even vote. 

What if the Town of Coaldale decided to take to the streets and offer residents a chance to cast a vote for the future of Coaldale policing? One, would a majority of the populace even come out to check a box for yes or no or otherwise, if given the chance? Two, if the town held an open house, not just for information purposes but a working open house where a citizen’s input would truly be taken into consideration before decisions were made — would many citizens take this opportunity to address an issue dear to the hearts of some?

As the 1980s classic cartoon says, “More than meets the eye” — there’s always two sides of a story and a variety of lenses, which filter what is actually seen. Perspectives run rampant, as each and every person has a core set of beliefs and values and learn independently of one another.

Therefore, in any issue, there will be winners and losers. Each idea will have its pros and cons. At the end of the day it is council’s responsibility to put forth what the people want. If that’s a new policing service, then so be it or perhaps it’s a return to the town’s very own police force or another municipality’s police force or maybe it’s keeping the existing regional police service.

It is hoped, the right decisions are made, for all the right reasons. It’s never an easy task for a council to change a certain way things are done or how the people have always been accustomed to the way it has always been. Change meets resistance, it’s natural. Out with the old and in with the new is a tough to swallow bitter pill for some.

For some, it is a breath of fresh air and perhaps a better tomorrow.

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