Showing how to (mis)lead by example - Denny Scott editorial
It isn’t that I like to be the guy sitting there wagging his finger at people. Really, it’s not. I’d much rather use this space to reminisce about better times, talk about my experiences as a dad and look to the future of our community, our province and our country.
Unfortunately, I’m a subscriber to Uncle Ben’s words of wisdom in Spider-Man (not any specific iteration of the web-head hero, since Uncle Ben’s words and death seem to be the one unifying factor in every work of Spider-Man fiction). He said that, with great power comes great responsibility.
So when I’m given a space like this where I can reach thousands of readers every single week, there’s a drive within me to use my space for some of the more important responsibilities that fall to journalists, like writing history’s first draft, highlighting the successes of our communities and, yes, holding people’s feet to the fire to make sure they act in the community’s best interest.
Sometimes, when I’ve had a few particularly critical columns in a row, I feel like readers might think I have a giant game show wheel in my office and every week I spin to figure out who I’m going to rag on next.
So where did the wheel land when I spun it this week? Squarely on North Huron Township Council. I’ll pause while everyone pretends to be surprised.
North Huron Township Council has a lot of new blood after the last election. Okay, maybe not “new” blood, but new-to-politics blood. That’s been a good thing. Council members have put an emphasis on pushing forward with projects and I’ll admit, they’ve got a lot done.
That said, they’ve also missed the mark occasionally and that trend continued during their last council meeting when they pushed forward with resuming in-person meetings.
The move, in the middle of this COVID-19 pandemic, seems to be unwise. Or, to take it back to Uncle Ben, they’re not being very responsible with the power they have.
Why? Well we’re apparently destined for another lockdown. If you watch the news or listen to the experts, we’re destined for a third wave thanks to the COVID-19 “Variants of Concern” (VOC) that spread faster and, in some cases, are more deadly than the vanilla strain of the virus. The word is that a third wave is coming or that we’re already in the midst of it, but North Huron staff, working on council’s request, have pushed to get North Huron back to meeting in person.
Granted, the median age of North Huron councillors likely means most of them will be vaccinated long before many of their constituents, but the simple fact is the vaccines don’t work like, say, the polio vaccine. People can still be infected by and transfer COVID-19 after being vaccinated, according to a number of different governments.
Before I keep ragging on how ill-advised the move to in-person meetings is, I’ll point out that North Huron Council isn’t the only one to move forward with this kind of idea. Huron East, for example, is doing the same.
Heck, even Morris-Turnberry Council, which has had all of its regular meetings virtually since the pandemic started, held an in-person budget meeting last week. I’ll give props for that council’s dedication to keeping each other and the public safe by holding it in an appropriate venue, but I still don’t think it was a wise decision.
The most damning part of this entire situation is that North Huron council is following the rules to the letter with no regard for the spirit of those rules. Council is pushing its meetings back into public spaces because it’s allowed, and in the words of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park, councillors are “so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
It doesn’t matter if North Huron is holding these meetings in a theatre capable of holding hundreds. There are still public surfaces people will touch to get there. There will be council members and staff members who are speaking loudly to make sure they are heard, which increases the COVID-19 “splash zone”. The simple fact is, it’s just not a good idea.
The issue here is that people are still being encouraged to avoid unnecessary interactions and council should be leading by example by keeping its meetings online.
Granted, there are complications to that. In North Huron’s case, council has chosen to use an unreliable meeting service (Cisco’s Webex Virtual Meetings) that I end up having to restart several times during a meeting. Council members lose connection to these meetings, however that could be remedied by switching to Zoom like everyone else under the sun. Some councillors also have poor internet connections, but, like members in other councils, they could go to the municipal council chambers and attend the meeting from there while still being safe and isolated. The bottom line is there are ways to make it work.
There’s a reason we take pictures of politicians when they give blood, and will be happy to take pictures of them getting their vaccine — it’s because people look to them for leadership, not just in words, but in actions. North Huron Council would do well to remember that.