Slime Politics at Local Level

A view of the ugly underbelly of local politics courtesy of Strathcona County Ward 4 candidate Carla Howatt (website - http://www.howatt.ca/Home.html):

Councillor Conduct
Aug. 8, 2013

"Those who know me at all know that I am strong on community. I don’t just appreciate community, I do what I can to help people create a sense of community and belonging. One of the main ways I have done that in the past is through events. Whether it is a cookie contest at a local restaurant, organizing cash mobs or hosting meetups/tweetups, I am always on the lookout for ways to bring people together.

When a friend of mine suggested a car boot sale – an event where people could get together for a day and sell from the trunks of their cars – I thought it was a wonderful idea. A fantastic way for people to spend some time together, meet their neighbours and have some fun on a Saturday afternoon.

Because one of my businesses had worked with Save On Foods before, I thought they would be a perfect location for this event. The company is very community minded and had indicated they would love to be involved. I chatted with them and they were excited to host Sherwood Park’s first Car Boot Sale.

Plans were underway! We had been given 20 stalls and I knew there would be no problem finding takers. The other thing Save On had suggested was finding a nonprofit to work their BBQ. I knew there were many struggling nonprofits in Sherwood Park and that it wouldn’t be a reach to find one willing to make some extra money.

To make a very long story short, I printed up $400 worth of event flyers to distribute. My picture, with the text “Another community event by Ward 4 candidate Carla Howatt” was included along the bottom of the flyer.

We had sold about 8 stalls when I received a phone call from Save On Foods. They had received a copy of the flyer and a complaint saying that Save On was showing favouritism by ‘endorsing’ me as a candidate.

Between the manager and I, we quickly decided that it wouldn’t be a problem. I would simply remove the wording “Ward 4 candidate” from the flyer and with no mention of the election, all would be good.

And it was good. For about four hours. Apparently, this change was not good enough as the complainant went to Save On head office. I quickly received an email from Save On saying the entire event had been cancelled.

Save On used phrases like “we can’t take a chance on doing this event” and “its too risky.” I found the wording to be very fear based, which confused me and made me wonder even more who had contacted them.

Within a short time I had found a new venue. When talking to the owners of the parking lot, I told them exactly what happened at Save On Foods. I shared the flyer with them and explained that someone had exerted pressure to have the event cancelled at the previous location . They assured me that as long as any garbage was cleaned up after the event, they would love to have it on their parking lot.

I was ecstatic, not only could we have more stalls, but we would have enough room to invite food trucks! I lined up three who agreed to give a percentage of sales to a nonprofit. This would be an ideal replacement for the BBQ at Save On.

A week after getting the ok from our second location and after selling about 20 stalls, I received a phone call. It was from the parking lot owners. They had heard from a County Councillor complaining about the event.

They wanted to make sure it wasn’t a political fundraiser. I assured them it wasn’t.

They wanted a guarantee that no brochures, signs or political speeches would be given. Again, I reassured them that it was never the intention.

They said they were ok on those grounds and the event could continue.

It was only a couple of hours later that I received another email. The owner had been contacted and he sent the word down that the entire event was to be cancelled. That was the final decision.

So, the Car Boot Sale, which was to be a fun community event, attract people to local commercial areas and raise money for a nonprofit, is cancelled.

Why did a councillor complain to two private businesses about an event that had nothing to do with him and that wasn’t even in his ward? Why was a complaint made when no election rules or bylaws were broken? Although I have my suspicions, I can’t really answer that question as it could be anything from spite to political gain.

Why am I spending the time to “tell tales” about my experience? Because I want people to understand where I am coming from when I talk about my values as a councillor and my motivations.

I believe a councillor should make decisions based on what is best for the County, not what is best for them as an individual. I believe a councillor should NOT use their position and their title as a means to exert undue influence or to bully and pressure to get their way.

A Strathcona County Councillor went out of their way, not once but twice to stop a community event that was not even occurring in their ward. They went out of their way to stop an event that would raise much needed money for a nonprofit in our community.

Everything that Councillor did was the complete opposite of what I stand for. It is behaviour such as this that makes the words “integrity” and “transparency” very real and meaningful to me – not just clich├ęs.

Throughout this experience, I have done my best to take what is so often referred to as “the high road.” I have not publicly called this councillor out - although I have a very good idea which councillor did it - and I have not complained to the County about this obvious abuse of position and power.

But what I will do is take this experience with me, I will take it into the election with me and I will take it into Council Chambers. I will remember this type of behaviour and I will make sure that I never, ever become so intent on fulfilling my own personal agenda that I lose sight of what is best for this County.

It is my intention, once the election season is over, to continue doing these types of events; to continue promoting local business, encouraging community involvement and supporting nonprofits to the best of my ability. It is my hope that by then the political interference and unethical behaviour is replaced with a true desire to do what is best for this community.

By the way, I have a parking lot I have to go sit at on Saturday Aug. 17 in case someone shows up for the event – anyone want to join me for a coffee?"

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