For the past 11 months, I have been covering the Fernie City Council meetings with vigour. I jest with the staff and other regular attendees that we have a standing Monday night date twice a month, which is more than I see some of my best friends. Between the Committee of the Whole meetings and the regular evening meetings, I would estimate I spend about four hours there every second Monday.
I’m new to covering civic politics and the only comparison I could make would be to covering the student council when I was in university or to the two District of Sparwood meetings I covered during my stint as a reporter. While the meetings have a reputation as being very dry, akin to watching a four-hour long golf tournament, city councils are responsible for numerous things that are deserving of attention. Sure, they have to describe with some detail about permit variances or debate whether to spend a couple of thousand dollars on a new backhoe and these seem trivial to the majority of the population. But if you read a meeting’s minutes, you’ll get an idea of the number of things City Hall is responsible for and how their decisions will affect you in the long run. Also, the more people pay attention, the easier it is to hold City Hall to account, which is of huge importance to a healthy democracy.
In early August, John Oliver did one of his infamous rants for Last Week Tonight on the state of journalism. The bit featured a clip from David Simon, who created the HBO hit, The Wire, and spent 15 years in the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun. He was speaking on the future of journalism and said the moment he saw a reporter from the Huffington Post or a similar online publication at a Baltimore zoning meeting would be the moment he would have faith in online publications. He went on to prophesize that the next decade would be a heyday for corrupt politicians, as the number of reporters holding them to account dwindles.
This resonated with me. Admittedly, some of the topics discussed in that room would make reading the iTunes terms of service look interesting. However, they do debate and decide on factors that affect the entire community and are responsible for spending tax money.
I’m saying this because the Sept. 12 council meeting was my last. I will be leaving my position with The Free Press in two weeks and will no longer be reporting on City Hall’s activities. But I hope people continue to fill that gallery and continue to ask Council questions, and questions they might not necessarily want to answer.