We have published, in this issue, what must be considered the most remarkable document to come out of the Municipal Centre in all its history. A letter to the Editor has been received from the Mayor and three of the four councillors of North Grenville making some extreme statements and claims. The context for this is important. Late last year, Mayor David Gordon deliberately lied to the people of North Grenville on the subject of Kemptville College, following an article in the Times. It was, I repeat, a lie, knowingly and deliberately contained in a statement read, but assuredly not written, by him.
The Times chose not to go to law over it, as the cost to the Municipality would come out of taxpayers’ money. Instead, we consulted the Ontario Ombudsman, and, as a result, were referred to the Integrity Commissioner. I made a few approaches to both Mayor and CAO, Brian Carré, asking for a meeting to talk about the issue, but was completely ignored. Last week, we officially informed the Municipality of this process, and we subsequently received the letter in today’s issue. And what an odd document it is.
It states that the Council and staff are doing such important work that it is “unacceptable for anyone to subject Councillors and/or staff to insults, derision or other derogatory comments”. Note that this comment is not aimed at the Times. That comes later. It is directed at everyone in North Grenville who would criticise the way council or staff do their jobs. What they mean by derision seems to be anything that finds fault with them; derogatory comments are those which would dare say that some people might not be very good at what they do. No examples of this are given.
The comments about the Times are very troubling indeed. Not because they claim we have been criticising them, but because negative comments from the media, in their eyes, are “bullying and an attempt to advance an agenda which threatens the democratic rights of the residents of North Grenville”. What agenda are they talking about? How is covering the municipal council and staff, and reporting on their activities, or lack thereof, a threat to the democratic rights of residents?
Trying to curb freedom of speech is far more of a threat to those democratic rights. Claiming, as they do, that they are also encouraging “residents to express themselves on matters of public interest” is nonsense, if any criticism is “unacceptable”. So, as long as we say that they are doing a fine job, and not in the least lacking in vision, transparency or achievements, then we are free to say what we like? That kind of policy is usually found in places like North Korea and Russia. I honestly expected better, and more personal integrity from people like Donovan Arnaud and Frank Onasanya.
The claims that the Times has made “malicious”or “defamatory” statements needs to be backed up by them. We have never made personal attacks against individuals, only against the way they do their jobs. Ironically, last week’s issue contained a glowing tribute to staff in the Public Works Department, well deserved too. It seems that “malicious” to these individuals means anything that they don’t like. Saying that the Times has made “various defamatory attacks” on council and staff is in the same category as the lies the Mayor told the people of North Grenville last year. It is completely ridiculous that we have a Council that cannot take valid criticism and is so thin-skinned that they don’t appreciate freedom of speech, either from the media, or the general, taxpaying, voting public.
I have had meetings and conversations with each of these four people, in which they have said things which would certainly have embarrassed them had they appeared in print. I have kept their confidences confidential throughout. They have broken that pact – all but one member of council, that is. Jim Bertram did not sign the letter. The only member of Council to actually do anything, to act as a councillor for the people of North Grenville, is having to withdraw and deal with a major health crisis. The rest have chosen this moment to write this arrogant and self-serving letter. Cowards. If we have defamed them, sue us. This attack, this claim that no-one, public or media, has the right to find fault with them because they are so important is the real threat to the democratic rights of the residents of North Grenville. They should be, but probably are not, deeply ashamed of themselves.
These four, as well as whoever wrote the letter (which I know none of them are capable of doing), have displayed such an arrogance, such a deep-seated conviction of their own importance, that they do not deserve to hold the positions they do. Their contempt for the people of North Grenville, who have every right to find fault, or to ridicule the ridiculous, shows such a paranoia and deep distrust of democracy and free speech, that they cannot be allowed to carry on this way. Time to throw a light on “politically neutral” bureaucrats who live on taxpayers money, and condescending representatives who think they have become better than the voters who put them there.