Time for some truth

Despite protestations to the contrary, people can handle the truth. Arguably, they deserve the truth.

It is now over eight months since Centre Wellington’s former CAO, Michael Wood left his post.

At the time our reporters pushed for details on his departure only to be repeatedly told by Mayor Joanne Ross Zuj that details would be kept confidential. Chapter and verse of the Municipal Act relating to personnel matters was quoted to legitimize withholding the details of whether or not a payout was issued to Mr. Wood.

After a month of questioning and uncooperative responses from the mayor’s office, we chose to wait until the annual Sunshine List was disclosed for an answer. We have those facts this week.

As suspected, Wood was paid an amount that resembled his annual salary, despite only working a portion of the year. Whether by continuance of salary or a lump sum, ousting the CAO cost the municipality money – a fact we think worthy of residents’ attention. It would appear that extra amount is upwards of $70,000.

The dollar amount, while significant, pales in comparison to the larger issue of being up front with taxpayers.  Handling the Wood departure should have been as simple as informing the public that an agreement had been made to end Wood’s tenure as CAO and the township was heading in a different direction. Instead, a cloud of uncertainty descended and speculation ensued.

Over time every municipality faces staff changes and sometimes those changes are simply a result of council and staff heading in different directions.

It is realistic then that such changes pushed on the part of the employer create an obligation – in this case the legal requirement of a severance package of some description. People know this and understand it, so why was the issue handled so poorly? It might be as simple as too much politics and too little truth.

Our editor here spoke to the issue of spin a few issues back as it related to annual budgets and the blended tax rate mythology that befell all county municipalities except Wellington North. To its credit, that council avoided the nascent confusion found elsewhere. There is no such animal as a blended tax rate, but in efforts to offset reality, conjectures were made to minimize actual spending increases, hoping, we suspect, that people would get tired of trying to figure it out.

Speaking with citizens about these trends, the thinking goes that instead of being pacified, the electorate is settling into two camps now. One camp warily accepts what it is told and the other camp has quit thinking about local politics because it now has descended into a mould of distrust and disbelief of politics usually reserved for professional politicians. It is as sad as it is unnecessary, because people do respect the truth.

This past week two very different idealogues passed away – Ralph Klein, former Mayor of Calgary and former Conservative Premier of Alberta, and Peter Kormos, former NDP Member of Provincial Parliament for Welland and sitting member of Niagara Regional Council.

The common link between the two men was an affinity for giving out the straight goods. While they may have come at an issue from different perspectives, there was no stopping their ability to connect with people and say what they meant. They gave people a chance to understand where they were coming from.

If our institutions are to be respected and trusted, residents deserve truthful dialogue in all things.