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Master of irony or bitter hypocrite

(Oct. 13, 2011) Once you figure out that some people don’t say what they mean, it becomes much easier to follow along with things such as . . . oh, town council meetings, for instance.

Take for example Bob Steckley’s remarks when council authorized an $86,500 investigation of the election finances of five other members of council and a former councillor.

“I’m just appalled at what has gone down here and I find it strangely ironic that one of the people that brought forward an audit request was here tonight as a delegation and even had the nerve to bring about the spending that she felt was inappropriate by members of council,” he said.

“These people that brought forward the audit complaints are costing the town of Fort Erie over $100,000 and for I think it was less than $30,000 collectively between the six that are being audited.”

The amount he quoted included other costs, including a lawyer to advise the independent committee that ordered the audits to be done and stipends for the committee members.

“I find that appalling. I find it disgusting. And how these people can sit out there and accuse anyone around this council chambers of spending money foolishly when they have just cost this town this kind of money — I think they need to take a good look in the mirror,” he said.

“I’ll be happy when this is behind us because it is leaving a very bad taste in my mouth.”

His words dripped with venom, fangs bared when he enunciated “disgusting.” The first thought was gee, Bob, how do you really feel?

It was a mostly empty room toward the end of this five-hour meeting. All the reporters but yours truly had left. Also remaining were a few of the latest generation of council junkies — the “lunatic fringe” as Steckley has called them — who gleefully stomp on his sensibilities daily on the internet using Facebook and a blog called Red Bull Diaries.

The scene was rather absurd since only he and Rick Shular could participate in this particular item of town business. Every other councillor and the mayor had a conflict of interest because they are being audited.

“She” wasn’t there either. “She” being Marina Butler who, along with another dozen or so delegates earlier that evening, “had the nerve” to castigate councillors for trying to dissolve the Economic Development and Tourism Corporation.

“She” also is one of the people who requested an audit. Her complaint was filed against councillor John Hill whose finances are being audited because he accepted a $200 campaign contribution from a U.S. resident.

The second thought was whoa, Bob, hold up a mirror indeed.

Here we had an elected public servant in a modern nation founded on democratic principles and the rule of law based on centuries of parliamentary tradition calling citizens “appalling” and “disgusting” because they want their councillors to act lawfully.

There is something seriously wrong with that. After a while, though, it makes perfect sense.

In a good book or a movie, the writer leaves clues which hide in plain sight. Often these are things that seem innocuous and the reader dismisses them. The trick is to understand that a good writer uses every single word to advance a story. Nothing is for nothing.

Steckley is no different.

When he said he found it “strangely ironic” when he should have said “hypocritical” — if you were to take his words at face value — then it becomes clear.

Steckley was being strangely ironic himself. When you hold a mirror up to his meaning (another clue he offered), it makes sense. Everything is backward.

It must be. Otherwise, if he was truly appalled and disgusted at the cost of the audits, he would have made a motion right then to have the town recover the costs from candidates who violated election law. That would let the taxpayers off the hook for this “appalling” and “disgusting” situation “that has gone down here.”

After all, the people who blew the whistle on the illegal campaign contributions, illegal accounting practices and illegal spending could be liable for the costs if the auditor finds no malfeasance and council decides to recover the costs from the complainants.

So, using the mirror of irony, what Steckley really said was:

“I’m very pleased that these citizens, residents of Fort Erie, taxpayers, voters are holding councillors to the same degree of accountability that we insist on.

“Unlike the Point Abino Lighthouse where we knew it was going to cost $1.4 million and we sold the dwelling to the low bidder for half the price we wanted, these citizen watchdogs didn’t know it would cost $100,000 to ensure openness and accountability of their elected officials.

“It’s truly unfortunate that my three amigos got caught doing what I did in the previous election when I accepted an illegal donation of $750 from an anonymous contributor identified only as the Fort Erie Ratepayers’ Association which cannot hold a bank account and therefore cannot write cheques which means that I either illegally took cash or I purposely lied on my financial statement for the 2006 election.

“Right now I’m packing my bags for my all-expense-paid trip to Quebec City for the national awards ceremony for Communities-in-Bloom for which Fort Erie is not even a blip on the radar screen because we didn’t enter the national competition this year. I’m going to learn everything there is to know about ‘Healthy Living Through Parks and Green Spaces’ and make a full report. I could give it now. It was disgusting and appalling.”

That must be what Steckley meant, making him a master of irony. Either that or a bitter hypocrite.

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