Being on council all about consensus

A reader writes about the decision of former councillor Al Mertens to resign from office.

Dear Editor,

When I was the publisher and editor of a weekly newspaper here, the sudden resignation of a councillor who resigned regretfully in protest would have been feature news. That it was tucked onto page 5 with a comment from the mayor, who implies the councillor was “not a team player”, says more about him and the council than it does about the councillor.

I realize that the brutal murder of a local man by his nephew is a priority read, and it is the editor’s prerogative to choose priorities. But anything civic in our community like the one involving  Mertens, a highly respected man with a professional technical background who received a good number of votes in the last election, raises questions.

To minimize this resignation with a censorious comment [from the mayor] also raises the question—in my mind, anyway, being a journalist—why? One of the axioms, I was told when I got into this business years ago, was why, where, how, etc.

Al Mertens is a thoughtful man with ideas. He has a mind of his own and a vision for the village and the surrounding communities, and people knew that when they elected him.

Believe me, I know all about how it feels to be blindsided when it seems you are not falling into line with council. There are ways of cutting  you off, giving you the silent treatment, failing to inform you of meetings. An air of secrecy and exclusion can get pretty heavy.

I served two terms on Ashcroft council, and there were things happening at the time that I felt it necessary to speak up about. I was  not a team player anymore. I was making waves, and I paid the price for months. But I didn’t resign. I fought back and played out my term.

If you want a council of trained seals who automatically agree with everything, that’s a shame. Learning to live and work with different opinions develops compromise, tolerance and more than a little patience.

It means, in other words, growing up as a council. Sure you’re adults, and have opinions of your own. But you never stop learning. Building a consensus is an art; but it teaches you lessons you never forget.

Have you ever been chosen to sit on a jury? I was once, and served as foreman. We  had to determine the fate of a man and a woman charged with brutally beating a senior with a 2×4.

We finally achieved consensus, but it took time, patience, tolerance, and hearing out opposing views. In the end, I didn’t entirely feel justice was done in the judgement of the accused; but it was a process of civil procedure that I felt privileged to have experienced.

To my mind, municipal councils should conduct all public business in similar fashion.

Esther Darlington


Editor’s note: When Mr. Mertens was reached for comment by The Journal for the article in last week’s paper, he declined to answer questions or make any comments over and above what he was quoted as saying.

He instead referred readers to the letter from him which also appeared last week, telling The Journal that it “says all that I want”. In the interest of fairness and balance, Mayor Jeyes was also asked to comment on the resignation, a situation of which Mr. Mertens was fully aware.

He agreed to answer questions for a piece in this week’s paper, and readers are directed to the article on page 3.

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