Jan. 9 started out pretty normal for me. I said my motivating ‘It’s gonna be a great day’ speech, but it was definitely not a great day. I got my flu shot and when I got back to work, I was told there would be a meeting at the RM of Piapot concerning the former Piapot School. I rushed over to Piapot after only eating an apple, so I was starving and got to the RM building with 10 minutes to spare.
I report on a lot of Maple Creek town council meetings, so I know the rules a municipal council is supposed to follow when reading tenders, opening meetings, addressing council and so on. Maple Creek council meetings are pretty tame, there’s no screaming, yelling, or name calling so I was kind of surprised at what I walked into at Piapot. I think everyone in the room was surprised at what occurred. This was not normal. You could feel the tension in the air.
It started with reading of minutes and councillors in each division sat around a table and read their reports. A new councillor was sworn in. They talked about routine council business like roads, plowing and tire quotes for machinery and then people were scheduled to address council.
Bam! It was like watching American Gladiators. You know, the fighting show where two combatants wear red and blue spandex and try to bash each other. Well at this council meeting there was a bashing with words – speakers and councillors interrupted each other and pointed at each other calling each other liars. (Remember I haven’t had lunch and my stomach is growling and I already have a headache right now.)
It was like pandemonium broke out. Eventually tempers flared where level heads should have prevailed. A second speaker addressed the council before they kicked the public out of the room for an in-camera session. As I stood in the hall with other spectators, the councillors behind closed doors began screaming over each other. And I don’t even mean hockey calibre screaming. I mean 10 people yelling so loud that I could hear it clear through closed doors across the foyer. In my mind I kept imagining if this would happen in Maple Creek or a city like Calgary. I tried to imagine Mayor Barry Rudd jumping across the round council table and yelling at Barry Elderkin or any of the other municipal councillors yelling in each other’s faces about feeling bullied. Of course that doesn’t ever happen in Maple Creek, but that was the image conjured in my mind as I was cringing watching the office staff at the RM of Piapot trying to complete their work and ignore the screaming. Some of the members of the public took a walk outside, others hid their faces in their hands at the words coming through the closed doors.
It was like a play out of the Rob Ford official game book. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing or seeing. I kept imagining I would hear a councillor shout, “I do not smoke crack cocaine!”
I have to admit when I walked into the meeting I thought it would be like Maple Creek, where the council doesn’t bring any outside emotion or personal problems into the room.
They let us back into the room, which smelt like walking into a locker room after a football game. There was so much energy expelled in that screaming match.
There was a second in-camera session after another speaker addressed the council and we were asked out again. This time one of the speakers noted I was from the newspaper and I was sitting in the room witnessing their crazed behaviour. I swear it was so quiet you could hear the birds chirping in the trees outside.
The meeting was so emotional with one-on-one challenges and speakers reduced to tears when it was decided the Piapot School and the grounds would be sold for a lesser tender than the highest one offered. In the end, I thought it was all petty. I couldn’t believe people who were “older and wiser” than me could behave like that. It was sad to see people in such a small community reduced to hating each other so visibly.