Local Government 101: Sorting

?Moved, seconded and carried that bylaw #576, 2005 Tax Exemption Bylaw be read a first, second and third time?.

This quote is from the minutes of a recent small BC community council meeting. That is the only information provided on the subject. If you were a resident of this particular community and someone gave you this quote in the local coffee shop, what would you think?

Personally, I want to know what people, agencies or firms are receiving an exemption, how much council is giving away, what reasons justify it and why is this happening a few weeks before an election. And most importantly, why didn?t I know before it happened?

First, it is legal for council to grant ?permissive tax exemptions? and ?assistance?, so long as certain requirements have been met and the proper procedures followed.

Second, the how?s, why?s and timings are a local matter.

Third, it could all be perfectly legitimate.

And fourth, the bylaw isn?t technically passed until a vote on ?final adoption? at the next council meeting.

However, the lack of information about a gift of thousands of local tax dollars is very disturbing.

And that is the topic for this week: how are we to know what council is doing in the present, and what technique can we use to evaluate candidates in the upcoming election relative to that point?

Several weeks ago we discussed the differences in information flow between the elected officials in various levels of government and ourselves. We tend to be kept informed of federal and provincial issues because the opposition parties, the news media and pollsters make it their business to do so. As a result, we don?t really have to work at it very hard.

However, in smaller and more rural communities we seldom have others ?in our faces? telling us about local current events.

Yes, yes I could preach about civic responsibilities, identify all kinds of ways we may find information or list the numerous rules about open meetings and proper council procedures. But I won?t. With the election looming, let?s just cut to the chase.

In my opinion, despite all the rules in the world, one of the most important characteristics of a good councillor is willingness to keep us informed, whether the news is bad, good or indifferent.

This takes individual and collective effort that differs greatly from that required of federal and provincial elected officials. If you accept this as true, it raises two questions for us to evaluate.

During the past several years, did existing council members try to inform you BEFORE important decisions were made?

During the past several weeks, did any of the new crop of candidates raise this subject?

The answer to these questions is extremely important. Our system of local government has been very well crafted. It?s the result of years of evolution and tradition. It isn?t that complicated in principle and works well if we let it.

First Reading introduces an intended action by council (and could be referred to a committee for further study). Second Reading is for discussion and amendment of the original version. Third Reading is when the final version is passed (and final adoption is yet a fourth vote and must only happen at a later meeting after ?one clear day?).

We should hear about the matter after First Reading so we may express our views during the Second Reading process and have our views incorporated into the Third and final version of the bylaw.

Therein is the nub of it: has any council member, in the present tense, made an effort to explain a bylaw to you at First Reading? Has any candidate promised to do that in future? Our answers are what we may use to help us ?sort? them before the coming vote.

By the way, the earlier quote is from a meeting in my own community of Port McNeill.

Before you read this I?ll have visited the municipal office for about fifteen minutes and done the following: reviewed the bylaw, discovered who voted in favour or against it and checked the names of the tax exempted against the financial disclosure statements of every candidate running for office.

Call me silly? I?m fussy that way…

Please try these techniques at least as part of a minimal strategy to ?sorting?, and please plan on voting.

David and his wife Colleen live in Port McNeill. He holds a degree in Canadian Government and Politics and retired there after a lengthy public service career. He may be contacted via this newspaper.

Recent District of Tumbler Ridge Bylaws:

September 5: (a) Bylaw 503, ?District of Tumbler Ridge Bylaw to Amend Fees Contained in the Building Bylaw No. 416, 1999? Final Reading.

October 3: (a) Bylaw 504, ?A Bylaw to Provide Exemption of Certain Lands Within the

Municipality of Tumbler Ridge from Taxation, Final Reading.