If there’s anything I learned during my two-plus decades in the newspaper business, it’s that everyone has an agenda. Some are just more open about it than others. Heck, some even gloat about it on Facebook the next morning.
People who live in this city have by now formed their own opinion about the sanctions council imposed on Mayor Mike Bradley for reportedly harassing former and current city employees. Now that the coup d’état is over, I have very real concerns about the appalling lack of oversight council has left in its wake.
For more than 20 years, I dealt with various city halls in Eastern Ontario before coming to Sarnia as the staff reporter for a local newspaper. But it wasn’t until I dealt with the City of Sarnia as a taxpayer that I got a real feel for bureaucratic red tape and bafflegab.
It started after my wife and I moved into our new home. As a part of the deal, the previous landowner decided to split the property into two building lots. Not a big deal, right? It happens all of the time, and the city has professional civil servants.
The whole experience was anything but professional. It started when a local charity dug the hole for the basement next door. All of the drawings in the city’s possession showed the sewage pipe leading from our house to the street travelled right along the property line.
It turned out the pipe was four-and-a-half feet on the wrong side of that neatly drawn line on the city’s records. The same drawings showed a toilet next to a basement drain that doesn’t exist. A toilet was installed and whatever plumbing inspections were supposedly done never caught it. When they dug the foundation next door, the backhoe operator released a healthy dose of raw sewage.
My first introduction to city hall was to have a building official ignore me while he told the project manager next door to fill my pipe with cement. Apparently, it was OK that I be cut off from city services. To fix their mistake, I was told to hire a contractor for big money to dig a hole in the street.
That’s when the lawyers got involved.
Things escalated for more than a year. City hall seemed unconcerned that my wife and I might have to leave our home.
I called Mayor Bradley and – surprise, surprise – city engineers were on the doorstep pronto. The project even got done on time. City Hall continued to insist it wasn’t their fault, even though they approved the land severance in the first place.
The story does have a happy ending, though. I got most of my money back from their liability insurance, the same one your property taxes pay for. Government 101: It’s OK to make mistakes if someone else pays the tab.
I’m happy that Mayor Bradley is looking out for my tax dollars, or was until now. Following the coup, I forecast a great, grey bureaucratic fog settling over 255 Christina St N.
Steve Coleman is a former, long-time journalist who has lived in Sarnia for the last decade.