If you were listening to the radio this morning, depending on the station, you would have heard that the City;
• Had approved drilling for oil in Muskoseepi Park, and would mail out royalty cheques to residents
• Was requiring residents to sweep the street in front of their homes
• Would be catching residents who still had Christmas lights up and fining them $250
Of course it's April 1st and everything has to be take with a grain of salt and a healthy helping of suspicion.
I remember waaaay back when we still had just the one government liquor store. There was a story that a delivery had been botched and a couple of pallets of beer had been slightly damaged. Only some of the bottles were cracked but still none of cases could be sold - so they were being given away free, to the first people to claim them. Not being old enough at the time to drink beer I'm not sure how much of a rush there was on the liquor store - I can only imagine.
This year, I was an accomplice in the last one in list above, with Q99. They called yesterday and said they'd be doing the story (joke) and asked if I could provide a quote to go along with it. Being a good sport and enjoying a joke as much as the next guy I had no problem helping out and providing a sound bite. I also asked them to add a bit about garden gnomes being next on the list of things that you might get fined for so there would be a pretty strong clue that it was a joke.
Of course there were funny reactions and while quite a few people saw through the farce but not everyone got it. In fact I got this email already this morning before Q99 gave up the joke on-air at 10am:
"Perhaps you didn't realize that your voice added a certain authority to the Q99 message this morning. When I called the raidio station and asked if this was an April fools joke I was of course told no.
So yes, my Alderman sure did get me on this one. I am unable to reach my teenager at home to stop her from physicaly ripping my lights down, we don't actualy have a ladder so she has been instructed to yank them off, gutters be damned. I am hoping I can make it home quick enough during my 1/2 hour lunch to stop her so I can have a good laugh as well."
Well first off, obviously, I apologize to the sender of the email (which I did as soon as I got the note). I'm sorry if my voice made the story more believable and I'm sorry for any problems or inconveniences it might have caused her, or anyone like her.
This makes me realize though that this illustrates a need to explain how the city works and how something like this couldn't just happen out of the blue one day with no notice. The city of GP doesn't work like that, things can't just happen without public notice. Our whole system is set up to ensure that the items that council considers and word of any changes to laws is in full public view, with lots of opportunity for the media to report on it. The whole point is so people can hear about it and then have a chance to speak up if they think it's not right.
Let's use this Christmas light thing as an example. If this were to happen here's the steps that it would have to go through:
First, it would go to the Protective Services committee where 4 members of city council would review the idea. This meeting is open to the public and the media have a table set aside especially for them so they can attend and report on what is being discussed. The committee would have to vote to send this on to Council for approval. These meetings are on a Monday morning at 9:30 so it's true, they can be tough for working people to get to.
Usually the media report items from that meeting later that day, or the maybe next day.
A full week later the issue would go to a full council meeting. The media is there again but more importantly these meetings are also open to the public. Anyone can come and talk to city council about any issue. These meetings are at 7:30pm every second Monday so it's much easier for people who work days to attend.
(If you can't be there in person you can send a letter or email to council to let us know what you think. All of our individual contact information, including email addresses and phone numbers is here but to make things easy you can send an email to "email@example.com" and it goes to all the Aldermen and the Mayor automatically.)
If council chose to pass the change to the bylaw that night the media would probably report it again the next day. From there it would be an official bylaw. Then it would join all the rest of the approved bylaws which are freely available to the public. Check it out, you can view or download them here.
Even after it has become official there is often a notice period before it takes effect. (Think of the Jan 1st start date for the new No-Smoking rules: after the change was made there were a couple of months before the new rules actually took effect. Time for everyone to get up to speed.) The new red light cameras are also an example of that; when the cameras go into service the first few tickets will actually be notices essentially saying "you might not have known, but there are now red light cameras in GP. You got caught running through a red light. This is your warning not to do it again."
So there is lots of public notice for decisions that council makes and there is lots of opportunity for informed residents to have their say about the issues. Ultimately our goal is to get people to comply with the by-laws, not to punish them with a fine with out giving them a chance to understand what is required.
.... Oh, and by the way if you are looking for really BIG news check out this scoop from GPconservative.