Mayor and Council: Absque Verecundia


Dilbert: Leadership
The same year Columbus set sail west for unknown lands, Sir John Kendal received a stern admonition in writing from the council of King Henry VII, of which he was part. The reproof, written in Latin, was for publishing self-serving documents meant to promote his goal to be appointed prior of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in England. He put his own ambitions above his responsibilities to the realm. Sounds like a few local politicians, doesn’t it?

The chastising document described Kendal’s behaviour as “absque verecundia” which meant “without shame, shameless, lacking respect.” The word verecundia also means respect or modesty. It survived for a while in an archaic form verecund, meaning shy, bashful, modest.

In our local political environment highlighted by our council spending more than $10 million of taxpayers’ dollars on a personal vendetta, corruption, egregious conflicts of interest, flakey woo-hoo ideas, lack of community engagement, misogynistic behaviour, lack of leadership, indecision, flouting of oaths of office and codes of conduct, absque verecundia seems rather fitting to describe our own municipal council.

Council’s behaviour has shocked and dismayed many among the local electorate since day one, but citizen ire seems heightened today, thanks to the inability or lack of interest by our mayor in providing any sort of leadership, or to set an example of higher standards. He has basically abandoned his role, although he continues to take the paycheque.

Last week, local business owner Suzanne Steeves presented a letter of complaint about Councillor Madigan’s boorish behaviour towards female councillors to Mayor Saunderson. She asked for an apology from both Madigan and Saunderson. And once again, our mayor refused to actually act like the mayor he was elected to be.

In an email to friends who shared her concerns, Steeves wrote:

I received a response from the Mayor on Friday. In his email he asked if he could have my permission to share the email and letter with the Clerk for her reply, since this was a procedural matter.

Not even a hint that he bears the responsibility for managing decorum at council meetings. Not even a suggestion he swore an oath of office to behave like a mayor. The buck doesn’t stop at our mayor’s desk: in a cowardly fashion, absque verecundia, he ducked it. Instead of owning up, he sloughed the responsibility onto the clerk’s office. Any opportunity to avoid making a decision, I guess.

Steeves was not impressed and replied:

Mayor Saunderson,

I think you have missed the point of the letter. This letter is not about a procedural ruling. It is about the unprofessional, disrespectful, rude and frankly shameful behaviour of Councillor Madigan towards Councillor Hamlin, and your decision to not address this behaviour.

The fact is, you are perfectly able (without the Clerk’s permission) to apologize and you can also require Councillor Madigan do the same. Instead you prefer to hide behind process. The message you are sending loud and clear is that this behaviour is fine under your watch. It is shocking and disappointing to say the least.

This is similar to the comments I’ve received from others who are deeply disturbed by the behaviour of both Madigan and Saunderson. But do you really expect the mayor to discipline his Most Loyal Follower? I am sure some readers believe the mayor approves of Madigan’s behaviour and would rather condone than execrate it.

What is being said in town about both Madigan and Saunderson is highly unflattering and critical, and I expect will have a negative influence on their political futures when it comes to their next elections. Lest we forget our mayor  wants to be the riding’s next MPP and this is the example he is setting.

As Victor Hugo wrote in the first chapter of Les Miserables:

Whether true or false, what is said about men often has as much influence on their lives, and particularly on their destinies, as what they do.

(trans. Lee Fahnestock and Norman MacAfee, Signet Classics, 1987)

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