Please... Give a little respect to [them] - Denny Scott editorial
It’s funny how you can always find a microcosm of larger events if you look close to home, all you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open and, sure enough, you’ll be able to apply the lessons learned to something close to home, or vice versa.
For me, I often don’t have to look much further than council meetings to see reflections of things happening on larger stages. The only question that remains after that is are our local politicians going to learn from the mistakes of their higher-tier fellows or not? The answer last week at North Huron Council’s Feb. 1 meeting was no, I don’t think they have.
What led me to believe that (and to the great Erasure, a 1980s pop-synth duo, reference in the headline) was listening to North Huron Councillor Chris Palmer lay into R.J. Burnside and Associate Limited’s Engineer Jeff Dickson for his report on the proposed Scott drainage project.
The proposed drainage works would bring private, recognized environmental work completed by the late Murray Scott, a former Deputy-Reeve of North Huron (and of no relation, for reference), into the Scott Municipal Drain. The issue was divisive for sure, with affected landowners saying they were strongly opposed to it.
Before we get any further, I’m not passing judgment on Dickson’s report, nor am I weighing in on environmental aspects being rolled into the drain. What I’m against is Palmer’s reaction to the report. There are ways to disagree with people, even criticize them, without going for the throat and apparently that’s a lesson both recently-resigned Governor General Julie Payette and Palmer need. Actually, it may be one I need to learn as well. However, given Palmer’s decorum (or lack thereof), I feel no qualms about turning his savage method of criticism back upon him.
Palmer held nothing back, that’s for sure, and watching him attempt to verbally eviscerate Dickson (which should have probably been stopped by Reeve Bernie Bailey, but wasn’t), I could only wonder if that kind of lambasting of an employee was what caused Payette to leave her position.
Aside from Palmer’s comments about the late Murray Scott, which I found a bit distasteful, even if he said he thought Scott’s environmental projects were “beautiful”, Palmer went on and on about Dickson’s report, talking about how he’s “never seen anything done so poorly” and questioning Dickson’s understanding of basic water flow. He then went on to question Dickson’s very humanity, saying he was blind to the “emotional toll” this was taking on the landowners.
The entire time I sat there, I kept expecting Bailey to cut Palmer’s incendiary remarks short, but it never happened, so I guess they’re both culpable in what I would call reprehensible behaviour for a municipal council member. That’s not overly surprising, though, as Bailey had his own knuckles rapped for disparaging remarks made against an individual in a meeting when he was a councillor years ago.
Fortunately, Dickson’s decades of experience must have included an angry councillor or ratepayer because he wasn’t flapped by Palmer’s unprofessional actions, pointing out that he followed the practices that are accepted by the boards that rule on drainage issues and saying he had been in regular contact with landowners on the drain, so some of Palmer’s claims about landowners regretting pursuing the project surprised him.
In Palmer’s defence, this isn’t new. I’ve taken in council meetings for nearly 13 years now, and in most of that time, I’ve been covering multiple councils, so I’d feel comfortable saying I’ve taken in a quarter-century worth of council meetings at this point and I’ve seen this happen before.
Most recently, I saw another drainage engineer raked across the coals by members of Morris-Turnberry Council, Looking back, that behaviour was comparable to what I saw happen during North Huron’s meeting.
The problem here is that there are only so many engineering firms that can handle the kind of work municipalities need and, if I were one of these engineers, I’d be avoiding working for that municipality again. Not because I’m some kind of millennial snowflake who is hurt by someone being critical of me, quite the contrary. I worry I’d hit my breaking point and let any disrespectful individual who spoke to me in the way that Palmer did to Dickson know exactly where they sit in the hierarchy of those for whom I have no patience.
Just like Payette needed to be more respectful to her employees, our municipal councillors need to remember that, when they are talking to an engineer working on behalf of the municipality, or any contracted, part-time or full-time employee, that they are in a position of power and need to handle that power appropriately. Those in supervisory roles need to respect those working under them. The alternative, acting like Palmer did, will lead to people not wanting to work for the municipality, which could drive the price of work up, impacting taxes.
We all need to remember the words of Erasure: give a little respect.