Parrsboro governance petition yet to be presented

Mayor, council do not attend July 10 citizens’ meeting

Andrew Wagstaff
Published on July 11, 2014

Former Parrsboro mayor Stanford Blenkhorn has about 100 signatures on a petition for a governance study on Parrsboro. He invited the mayor and council to accept the petition at a public meeting at the Parrsboro Fire Hall on July 10, but none were in attendance.

Andrew Wagstaff - cumberlandnewsnow

PARRSBORO – As the dust begins to collect on a petition asking for a study on Parrsboro's future governance options, Stanford Blenkhorn and a group of citizens mulled over the best way to get it to the town council table during a public meeting at the Parrsboro Fire Hall on July 10.

About 25 people attended the meeting, which was a follow-up to an April 21 meeting in which the former mayor introduced the petition and gained about 100 signatures. The petition calls for Parrsboro to hire consultants to study four different options for governance: dissolving its town status; becoming a village, amalgamating with the Municipality of Cumberland County; or remaining with the status quo as a town.

Blenkhorn said Mayor Lois Smith and town councillors were invited to attend the meeting and accept the petition, but none were in attendance. Three councilors had attended the April 21 meeting.

On July 8, the mayor told this newspaper she and council would not be taking part in the meeting, and that a statement of explanation would be posted on the town’s official Facebook page by CAO Ray Hickey on July 9. This statement cited rules of the Municipal Government Act, specifically that all council meetings must be called and presided over by the mayor, and that any meeting involving members of council to discuss town business or policy, and not called by the mayor, is forbidden.

“This means that while citizens are free to discuss local politics in their homes, at a local coffee shop or in other venues, the town council cannot be involved in these unofficial meetings,” read the statement. “If an individual or group has issues of concern or suggestions, they must be delivered to the council through correspondence to town hall or through any appointment at an official meeting of the town council.”

Blenkhorn argued that these rules don’t apply to what he was asking of the mayor and council.

“The mayor didn’t have to call the meeting,” he said. “I called the meeting to get them to come out, (so I could) present the petition to them, so I know they have it, and invited everybody here.”

In the weeks following the April 21 meeting, Blenkhorn haggled with Hickey about a date and time to arrange when the petition could be presented to council. An agreement on this appeared to have been reached when council added a spot on the agenda of its June meeting for Wendy Blenkhorn to make the presentation, but this did not take place because Blenkhorn said they had never received confirmation from the town that she would be able to do so.

Further to this, Blenkhorn said he has since been advised by a municipal affairs official that, for the petition to be officially accepted and recorded into the minutes, it must be presented by a member of council on behalf of the residents who signed it.

“There was a suggestion from Ray that I just drop it off to town hall,” he said. “But the problem arising is that it’s not officially presented to council and would never be recorded in the minutes or history. There would be no record of it.”

One of the residents attending the Thursday meeting was Andrew Smith, son of the mayor, who advised Blenkhorn to attend the next council meeting and deliver the petition, rather than dragging out the issue on social media or anywhere else but town hall.

“You’ve gone about the whole thing in kind of a confusing, backwards way,” said Smith. “If you present the petition to town council, they will discuss it, and then maybe it will move forward. This Facebook talk, and back-and-forth bashing everybody, is probably not the best approach to doing it.”

At one point, Smith appeared prepared to take the petition himself and present it to a member of council, but later backed off on this.

“I’m not representing town hall, and I’m not fighting you on this,” said Smith. “I actually like the idea to have a review, of what’s the town going to be in 10 years. Everybody likes to bash the mayor and council and whine, but the town is actually being run fairly well. But you’re probably right, 15 years down the road, maybe it is going to be a ghost town.”

Blenkhorn said a lot of people have been misled into thinking Parrsboro is in strong financial shape because it has about $1 million in reserve accounts, but said that money will not go far in covering the work that needs to be done in the town, such as a sewage treatment plant. He also referred to a recent report by the department of municipal affairs and the Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities that criticized the town for being too dependent on government transfers.

“The sewer is going to be the most expensive, and we can’t afford it right now,” he said. “But if we’re going to be in a position where we have to do it, we’re going to have to find a new way to run our community.”

The meeting concluded with a commitment from Wendy Blenkhorn and Noreen Hirtle to approach members of council, to ask them to present the petition on behalf of the residents who signed it.

Twitter: @ADNandrew