By Cole Parkinson
A local resident has expressed her frustration with town administration and town staff.
During Vauxhall town council’s regular meeting on July 17, Michelle Ostafichuk was present in council chambers to get some answers as to why her concerns have not been answered.
“It seems awfully hard to get through to your office. I leave messages, they’re not returned. And when they are it’s ‘yeah, it’s so and so, call me,’ really? Very unprofessional. If they want to blame everything on Tanya (Strydom), that’s not right either, she’s become a fall guy. I have manholes in my field, somebody nicked one, blew a tire and fortunately they noticed. What if it had been something more serious? It is part of the town’s obligation to maintain those. All that I have asked for, on three occasions, is build the dirt up around them so the crop can grow up higher and you can see it. These flimsy little poles with reflectors on them, which two are snapped off which may be from age or somebody hitting them, it’s not safe. I thought it would be my liability that would be involved, I’ve been informed that it is not. Because it is the town’s system out there on my property, it is the town that would be liable. So you might want to check your insurance instead,” said Ostafichuk. “I’m tired of getting stonewalled, I don’t think it’s fair.”
Ostafichuk also stated she had repeatedly tried to get in contact with staff to express her concerns but no one ever got back to her.
“I would also like town employees that I call to return the calls and other calls people give. Is that too much to ask of an office. I see none of you moving, so do you find it acceptable?” she asked. “I phoned, I left a message. I waited a week, nothing. In the second week, I asked again and I found out who they had given the message to.”
After not hearing from staff and administration, she reached out to Coun. Linda English to get her message across.
Coun. English didn’t have any answers for her and wasn’t particularly happy with how Ostafichuk had approached the situation.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to come into an office yelling and screaming at people, you aren’t getting results that way,” said English. “You also phoned me at my home and questioned me. I don’t work at administration.”
With this particular concern, administration wasn’t 100 per cent sure how to address it.
Because they were having trouble accessing the situation, administration says it was pushed to the side.
“Michelle has approached me numerous times, I’ll defend her on that because it has been two years since the first time you asked me. I did forget about it but I’ve also neglected it, so I won’t lie about that. The main reason I have neglected it is because I don’t want to bury the manholes and have a tractor hit them and then we have a sewer backup. My fear of that happening has made me avoid that situation but council can direct us to do that,” said CAO Cris Burns.
While burying the manholes or sloping dirt around them didn’t seem like the right solution, council did have some suggestions on how they could solve the problem.
The most viable and safest route suggested by council was to have protective barriers around them so they were easily visible and not exposed to equipment.
“I’ve seen situations where they have built cages around these manholes that extend three or four feet above the manhole, I don’t know how feasible that is,” said Coun. Ray Coad. “It is our equipment and she is right, we are liable.”
Administration said there were four manholes in that string so four cages would be needed if that was the route council and Ostafichuk wanted to take.
“It would seem that the traditional, often called cattle guard, would be the good solution here. It’s highly visible and reduces the likelihood of a hit,” stated Deputy Mayor Richard Phillips.
Ostafichuk questioned if councillors were expected to take calls about these types of situations.
“As councillors to the public, do you not have an obligation to be available for contact?” she asked.
While councillors are supposed to be available for contact, administration says that they wouldn’t be able to give any direct answers on how the issue would be resolved.
“Not direct like that. It’s not council’s responsibility to answer questions about administration like that. Council gets informed and makes decisions based on that,” answered Burns.
She also wondered what they would have done if the councillors had been in her position where administration and staff were not contacting her back.
Those on council were fairly sure they too would have approached a councillor they knew to get some answers on why there was a lack of communication.
“In that case, I suspected ourselves included, if we weren’t sitting on council, would probably talk to a councillor that we know,” said Phillips. “I think most of us agree, councillors should be available to contact. On one hand, in a small town like this, everyone knows each other and you expect to be asked questions by the citizens of the town. The danger of that becomes if councillors start making what are perceived to be promises, even though they might not be, which people then perceive is to be binding on council which they legally cannot. Council can only act as a council, with the majority approving.”
With that said, they also realized decisions needed to be brought forward to council in order to come to a fair conclusion.
“Council is controlled by the budget like everything else. They can’t do anything without that resolution and approval by council. The best answer they can give you is to contact administration and they have the responsibility to carry out those duties given by council and by bylaw,” added Coad.
Administration was then advised by council to contact Ostafichuk when they had obtained some cages and to run a trial to see how they worked.