"... the French police were chasing a charles or a spinks who fled into a building in Paris. Their first thought was that they would surround the building. But then they realized that the building was so large, and had so many exits, that they didn’t have enough policemen on the scene to do that. So they surrounded the building next door, which was smaller and had fewer exits."
or maybe something happening here!!Editor's note: Sylvie Fitzgerald is a regular freelance commentator for CBC Radio's morning show in Saint John. Last week, after the CBC aired what she considered to be lopsided interviews of City Manager Terry Totten and Telegraph-Journal columnist John Chilibeck, she pitched, and was given the nod to write, a commentary for CBC on the Totten issue. Her commentary was to air on Thursday, but after much deliberation she was offered a kill fee rather than broadcast time by Deborah Irvine, the executive producer of CBC Saint John and acting producer of the morning show. What follows is Sylvie Fitzgerald's unedited commentary, which she entitled, "An apology to Totten from the taxpayers of Saint John."Last week, the most powerful man in City Hall, City Manager Terry Totten, was interviewed by the CBC complaining that he and his family are being bullied by recent critical stories published in the Telegraph-Journal.Two stories in particular, both filed by columnist John Chilibeck, were cited as having crossed a line of professional ethics. Totten accused the paper of bias and a generalized lack of facts.Dammit, Mr. Totten, don't make me defend the Telegraph, with its endless storehouse of right-leaning, self-serving, no-name editorials. A more jaded commentator might suggest that throwing the unpopular paper, the city's favourite punching bag, into the pit of public scrutiny was nothing short of good diversionary spin.What are the facts that Chilibeck left out? Or perhaps it's a case of the columnist including one fact too many. Being "young" and "pretty,-smart" and "ambitious-" all adjectives Chilibeck used to describe Margaret Totten, former Director of Tourism - aren't exactly insults. Commanding a huge salary by Saint John standards is no crime either, nor technically is being in bed with the boss. But taken as a whole, it smacks a little of good old-fashioned nepotism.Margaret Totten may very well have been the absolute best candidate for the high-ranking staff position she eventually attained, but being married to the City Manager probably didn't hurt... and it opened up a gaping chasm of conflict of interest potential... just the sort that news commentators like to stick their finger into and poke around.What is the whole story that Terry Totten wants the taxpayers to know? Is there something more that will help us understand last year's foiled Florida trip? Because any way you look at it, convalescing down south while on sick leave from a publicly funded plum job... looks pretty bad.I mean, if I was pulling a sickie, I think I'd be a little more self-conscious. If you can't make it in to work, shouldn't you be crouched over a toilet or sequestered in a darkened room or something? Surely working on your tan doesn't count as work. I'm just saying if it was me, Jane taxpayer.Maybe the Tottens' travel plans are none of my business. Maybe the much-abused Margaret Totten is nothing more than the pretty poster girl for the pungent aroma coming from city hall. After all, the Tottens have broken no corporate rules of conduct, because there are no non-fraternization policies in place at City Hall. But isn't that Chilibeck's point? How he went after the story may not be as high-minded as the moral majority would prefer... but if Chilibeck is guilty of anything, it's just printing what the rest of us are thinking.Chilibeck's column is the first thing I read in the local rag. Let's just say he's got more of an edge then fellow columnist Fred Hazel. He serves up fresher fare than what's on tap in the Duncan diary. If the paper has some hidden agenda, as Totten suggests, I suspect it's nothing more despicable than the obvious - the desire to sell more papers?Maybe the Totten saga isn't a very nice or tasteful story, but there is no doubt in my mind that it is newsworthy. Does somebody owe the Tottens an apology? It can't be easy being strung up as the paper's most popular piñata. But are Saint John taxpayers really supposed to imagine Terry Totten as the injured party of the piece? Particularly since the story evolved into a human rights complaint that may very well volley into yet another lawsuit for the non-litigious Tottens - this time requiring private counsel and potentially 12-plus weeks of mediation to the tune of undisclosed, but no doubt exorbitant fees. All paid for... you guessed it... by the taxpayers of Saint John.And if we enter a Totten vs. Totten trial, where will the City Manager's allegiance lay? At home with his sick, allegedly discriminated-against spouse, or at work as chief executive responsible for safeguarding and efficiently administering our tax dollars?If anyone's professional conduct needs to be checked, I'm not convinced it's Chilibeck's.Sylvie Fitzgerald lives in Saint John.
Many people make the mistake of assuming the most powerful man in City Hall is the mayor. In some places this is true, but not in Saint John.Mayor Norm McFarlane is a leader around the council table, but his power only goes so far. His vote is one of 11, so anything that he wants done requires the same majority that any other council member would try to win.The most powerful person at City Hall is the city manager, who for the last year has often graced these pages for the wrong reasons. Terry Totten is the professional who signs off on city reports and draws up the $120-million budget. Council gives him direction, but most of the time he presents recommendations and the politicians accept them. Textbooks call the system in Saint John the 'weak mayor' form of local government.The strength or weakness of this system largely depends on the unelected professional who runs the show. If he's a capable leader who makes wise decisions, the city runs smoothly. If he's a leader who's spent, who exercises poor judgment, the city falters and things fall apart.A little over a week ago, this column cited a glaring problem in Totten's tenure at the top, one that has had people talking for years. It's the kind of behaviour that has a demoralizing effect on staff or worse, encourages them to emulate the same behaviour. Another manager might say, "If the boss can get away with it, why can't I?"The column described how he had a relationship with a junior employee, who soon after became his wife and quickly rose to the top of her city department. It also mentioned how no one in power publicly challenged this questionable arrangement. The story provoked extreme reaction from readers who thought the writing crossed a line or praised it for telling the bald truth.Totten himself is indignant. He appeared on the CBC to plead his case, saying that the newspaper was trying to destroy him and his family, and that the column was anti-women. He suggested there must be some sort of unknown motivation to get rid of him.Not once has he addressed the substance of the issue. Human resources experts say the kind of arrangement the Tottens had at work can lead to trouble, namely liability for an organization. Well, guess what? After the cancellation of a questionable trip to Florida and the submission of her resignation, Margaret Totten is now threatening to sue the city and entering into mediation over her human rights complaint. She says her workplace discriminated against her because of her marriage to the city manager. This is what happens when a city has no non-fraternization policy. Taxpayers are now on the hook for expensive legal fees and possibly a big money settlement.Why the city manager could not see this coming says a lot about his judgment. Leaders in public service must be beyond reproach. Even the appearance of favouritism should be avoided. Terry Totten basically said, "to heck with that," and did what he liked. When he started a relationship with his soon-to-be-wife, one of them should have left the organization to avoid the appearance of nepotism. It's as simple as that.This is just one of many questionable decisions he has made that are a drag on the city. Totten is brilliant at passing blame. Whenever city problems are brought up, he quickly points the finger back at council and says the politicians are ultimately responsible. He's simply following directions.Not on this issue. As the top manager making a generous salary, he should have known - and acted - better
Post a Comment