Councillor Jody Antosh-Cusitar was quite vocal in the last Churchbridge council meeting concerning by-law enforcement. Talking about why she feels so passionate about the subject of by-law enforcement, Councillor Antosh-Cusitar said, “The people and the morale of our community, communication is the key. The biggest communication issue I've seen for too long in the town has been, the people feel they are listened to, but not listened to be understood. The community has made it clear for the past year or more of their concerns with the current by-law enforcement agreement we are in. All of which to me were valid concerns, yet never seemed to have been heard. I wanted to understand the purpose of their concerns. When I ran for council I made a promise to the people that I would voice their concerns to the best of my ability; that I would be as honest, transparent and supportive as I could be while still maintaining my role as a council member ensuring the highest level of integrity. We were voted in by the people and I feel we need to honour and respect that while ensuring all needs are met.”
Councillor Antosh-Cusitar was asked, do you see the need for by-law enforcement? Her response was, “Yes, I feel all procedures and policies need to be followed, understood and adhered to, however at the same time the issue I found is not the removal of a bylaw but rather how the bylaw complaints are approached and acted on. There has been unfairness felt by many along with inconsistencies amongst complaints and impersonal approaches.
I respect our current by-law officers’ roles and responsibilities. It isn't an easy job and you need to have extensive knowledge of the Bylaw Acts; however, the morale of the community has diminished significantly between the taxpayers and the town. The people are feeling a disconnect from one another and losing that ‘small-town vibe’ that we once had. Many have felt unheard and disregarded. They express concerns to the town and they need to start being heard and understood. I want to change that. In order to move forward in a positive direction, we need to remodel the vision mission and values we developed for our town. We need to all work together, communicate openly with one another and support each other. That's when positive change happens. The community is much more than belonging to something, it is doing something together to make belonging matter.”
When asked how she saw by-law enforcement in Churchbridge, Councillor Antosh-Cusitar said, “I would like to see more education to our citizens on the bylaws acts. When people understand the acts, they can learn to be more consciously aware of their actions. In addition, I would like to see a more personable approach from our town. There needs to be fairness, equality and consistency along with open communication steps in the procedures for the entire town to be aware of. There needs to be consequences for all steps that are not abided by. According to the town administration, there were a total of 117 warnings and infractions in one year; whoever was unclear of these infractions were issued fines that were paid. We need to have by-law enforcement of some type. We need to hold on to all of the steps. A citizen of the community came up with the great idea of forming a complaints committee to take on the role of bylaw enforcement. I wanted to explore all ideas therefore I took it upon myself to contact other local communities to ask what their by-law enforcement roles were. Langenburg and Bredenbury both deal with their complaints within the town administration and council. They had more personable approaches with their citizens with few concerns. Esterhazy renewed their agreement with Southern Commissioners By-law; however. They also noted similar concerns from their community as Churchbridge had. Esterhazy was open to exploring ideas next year with Churchbridge which would include a possible tender position between Churchbridge, Langenburg and Esterhazy; however, nothing is in writing but as they are simply possible resolutions explored for the communities.
Mayor Bill Johnson and I met recently to discuss everything I set out in this article. We both agreed that the community deserves to be heard. In a recent poll I did, over 70 citizens replied, all of which did not want the town to renew the contract; that speaks volumes. We both agreed on proposing the complaint committee to counsel that would include the mayor and two council members and develop steps that we felt would not only be beneficial to the community, but they would also respect our town workers wishes and adhere to our by-law acts. This would include the town administrator simply documenting the complaint and complainant followed by the committee taking on the role. The first two steps would include a friendly phone call or knock and talk with both the complainant and the defendant. In addition for a complainant to move forward, there has to be visible concrete evidence of an infraction. The steps followed would then include a letter and so on. We feel this will give the people a more personal friendly personable approach while still respecting the Bylaw Acts. I propose we try this for a year and if it is not effective or we have seen more concerns then we may have to return to the by-law agreement with the commissioners or look at other avenues.
Councillor Antosh-Cusitar was asked if she feels there will be community support for the idea. She responded, “Yes, I am hopeful. Many of the citizens have concerns where they felt they rarely have been heard, spoken to or asked her opinions by the town. Although it's only been a few months for our new council, we are working hard on changing that. When taxpayers have trust in their town there's respect, whether it's a friendship or a relationship with another one all bonds are built on trust, without that you have nothing. That is what is special about small towns we all know one another and though sometimes we may not like one another we must respect one another. We must set aside our personal beliefs and look at what is best for our community’s future. I am an advocate of using your voice being honest and allowing each person to be heard and this is one of those moments. We need to role model the same behaviour to the town that we expect in return we cannot create a future by focusing on the past. We must keep looking ahead and I will continue to do so to do just that our citizens deserve it. Thank you to Councillor Jody Antosh-Cusitar of the Churchbridge Town Council for sitting down and sharing her passion for the hot topic of by-law enforcement.
Gary Horseman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Four-Town Journal