VILLAGE OF BADDECK INC.
A conversation on social media sent The Victoria Standard on a quest to find out more about the incorporated Village of Baddeck. Getting answers was a challenge.
Can you name a Baddeck Village Commissioner? Judging by a February 11 Facebook thread involving local residents, many find it difficult. One commenter summoned The Victoria Standard to shed light on the “who, what, where, when and why” of the Village of Baddeck. In our attempts to oblige that request, we encountered significant obstacles in carrying out our professional duty to inform the public about their government and hold elected representatives accountable. Here is what we were able to find out.
We do know that the Village of Baddeck has had its hands full this winter. December brought the sudden passing of long-time public works operator Jackie Macrae. January brought the planned retirement of Ron Mcintyre, Director of Public Works. To further complicate things, February brought relentless snowfall calling for constant snow removal. News about these events impacting Village personnel came mostly by word of mouth.
A basic Internet search for the Village of Baddeck comes up empty. Their only web presence is an unofficial and unpopulated Facebook page. A targeted search for Village of Baddeck contact information produces two results: a phone number on the Baddeck Water Utility “Change of Address” web page housed on the Victoria County website, and an email address on the Nova Scotia Utility Review Board here: https://nsuarb.novascotia.ca/node/274.
Communication protocol with the Village of Baddeck was discovered in a round-about way. On February 15, hours after contacting the incoming public works hire for an interview, we were informed by Village Clerk-treasurer Erin Bradley that The Village would provide its own newspaper announcement about the new hire. We were further informed that “any future correspondence/requests need to be addressed through an email to [The Village of Baddeck], and not directly to employees and/or Commissioners.”
Seeking clarification regarding communication protocols with The Village, we left voicemails with Bradley on February 15 and February 17.
While waiting for clarification, we decided to broaden our inquiry about The Village. On February 17, we requested details via email about the Village Commission’s mission, governance structure, past/ current initiatives, and requested copies of meeting minutes for the past year. Four days went by without a response, so on February 21, we called Village Chair Richard Roberts directly, leaving a message on his cellphone requesting an interview with him and other Commissioners. The call was never returned by Roberts.
Finally, responses via email from Bradley arrived on February 22. Bradley stated that the Village Chair and Vice Chair have been very busy in their roles following the change in Commission leadership in July 2016. She added that The Village would reach out to the Standard when they were “ready to meet to discuss matters concerning the Village (possibly one month’s time).” Bradley went on to write that the Village is conducting a “full analysis of Village assets and operations” and looks forward to discussing the “past, present and future direction” of The Village.
We were then directed to Section XVIII of the Municipal Government Act to learn about Village governance (http://nslegislature.ca/legc/statutes/ municipal%20government.pdf).
To date, our request for meeting minutes has not been acknowledged.
According to Bradley, the Village’s communication protocol ensures that records of correspondence can be presented at Village meetings. We gleaned further insight into this protocol by speaking with another Village Clerk-treasurer on mainland Nova Scotia.
“The way we run things here is either the Chair or the Clerk is the communication agent with the press. That’s just the way we operate. So, if you were a member of the press and contacted one of the other Commissioners, they’re going to talk to you, but it’s supposed to be either the Chair or myself that communicates. That way we can control the message that’s being put out.”
Controlled access in communicating with elected officials outside monthly meetings raises questions about transparency. There are currently no established standards with regards to transparency for incorporated Villages across Nova Scotia. According to Lewis Benedict, President of the Association of Nova Scotia Villages, transparency is something Villages should strive for.
“Basically we work for the public. Ratepayers of the Village hire us, or rather, vote for us, and we work for them. […] We try to keep everybody in the loop,” says Benedict.
As the accompanying table illustrates, the majority of the remaining twenty Villages in Nova Scotia have a web presence offering varying degrees of contact information, and downloadable documents. Sixty percent of Villages have dedicated websites. Fifty percent of Village websites provide Village Commissioner names and contact information. Some even provide Commissioner photos and bios. Forty percent of Village websites provide downloadable meeting minutes and community notices. Very few provide emergency plan information such as boil water notices.
Model websites include The Village of Pugwash, the Village of Bible Hill and the Village of New Minas. The Village of Pugwash lists Village properties and services, the Commission’s mission statement and annual budget statements. At the top of their web page listing current and past Commissioners, The Village of Lawrencetown boasts the motto, “Working with you to keep our community strong.” Their contact page lists contacts for all Village Staff. The Village of Tatamagouche home page states, “Should you wish to speak with one of our Village Commissioners directly, please do not hesitate to contact them by phone.”
As for The Village of Baddeck, we reported in August 2016 that Richard Roberts was elected as Village Chair in July 2016, taking over from Eddie Keeling. Robert’s election as Chair came as the result of Commissioners feeling it was time to take things in a new direction. Current Commissioners include Brian Morrison, Philip Macrae, Marilyn Morrison, and Bill Marchant. It is not clear if Roberts is currently filling out Keeling’s term as Chair or whether he was elected for a full three-year term. It is also unclear when the other Commissioners are up for re-election or what their specific Commission titles are.
Village of Baddeck monthly meetings occur on the second Wednesday of the month, 7pm, at the Public Works Building located across from the Baddeck RCMP Detachment. When you enter the building, you'll walk through the garage and into a back room where meetings are held. It is unclear why meetings are held at this location, given that The Village of Baddeck main office is located in the Municipal building in downtown Baddeck. The Annual General Meeting (AGM) must be held between now and July 1 as required by the Municipal Government Act. At the AGM, the Chairman's report is read, the audited financial statement is presented and elections are held. It is unclear if a date has been set for this year’s AGM.
This September, the Association for Nova Scotia Villages will hold its AGM in Baddeck. The Standard looks forward to attending and learning more about what guides other Villages in their interaction with the public.
We will continue to keep you informed about the Village of Baddeck as details become available.
“Basically we work for the public. Ratepayers of the Village hire us, or rather, vote for us, and we work for them. […] We try to keep everybody in the loop,” - Lewis Benedict, President of the Association of Nova Scotia Villages