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A glimmer of dissent?

Council and administration pose for a photo in the town's new council chambers in July 2016.

Council and administration pose for a photo in the town’s new council chambers in July 2016.

For most people a news story about a parking lot generates a passive interest at best, but for those paying attention this week something of far greater importance took place – council voted against a motion.

In most communities this wouldn’t even register or be a newsworthy event, but in Jasper it’s such a rare occurrence these days that the newspaper couldn’t even remember the last time it happened.

This of course doesn’t mean it has never happened or that councillors never cast a vote in opposition to a motion, but by and large every motion that comes before council is approved.

It’s become such a common occurrence that some residents have quietly questioned who’s actually running the community: administration, the mayor or council.

The answer of course is all three, however its clear administration, with the blessing of the mayor, is often running the show.

Take for instance the vote this week on a proposal to expand a municipal parking lot on Patricia Street.

In the absence of the mayor, who is currently on vacation, councillors voted 4-1 against the motion, a rare break for a council that usually says yes.

In most cases a proposal like this would never have made it as far as it did unless there was a clear consensus led by the mayor.

This seems to be the municipality’s modus operandi – propose an idea, get the mayor on board, iron out the wrinkles, get a consensus then vote.

The problem with this method is it forgets one very important part: public debate.

The municipality will argue of course that there is ample time between when an idea is first brought up at a committee-of-the-whole meeting to when it appears as a request for decision, however the problem remains the same – public debate rarely, if ever, sways council’s decisions.

Take for instance the Tour of Alberta, which was unanimously approved despite strong opposition from the business community.

The first time the community heard about the municipality’s intentions was when the race appeared as a $50,000 line item in the 2017 budget.

As it turned out, this issue, like so many others, was discussed behind closed doors at the Jasper Partnership Initiative, which only fuels speculation and mistrust about council’s process.

Compounding matters, by the time the Tour of Alberta showed up on council’s agenda public debate was all but sequestered before council voted on the issue.

If council is truly interested in what the community has to say it would behoove them to consider discussing these sorts of issues in the public realm rather then behind closed doors. Better yet, why not just invite the public, including the media, to the next Jasper Partnership Initiative so the public can be a part of the discussion before it gets to council.

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