“Tonight I walked out of a meeting of Council of the Town of Fort Frances in protest of a series of undemocratic actions taken by my counterparts. Those actions shut-down discussion, signal-boosted lies, covered up misconduct, and saw Council refuse to take meaningful steps to improve diversity or address the retiree stranglehold on local government in our community.
Opposition to Efforts to Improve Diversity and Working-Age Participation
“During tonight’s meeting, I asked Council to task the Administration and Finance Committee with making recommendations on simple changes that could be made to the way that Council operates that would encourage a broader range of candidates to run in the next municipal election.
“I suggested, for discussion purposes, that we look at meeting scheduling and make permanent our ability to meet virtually (as we have been doing for two years). This would remove a major barrier which prevents working-age people from serving on Council.
“My goal was to send a message to the community that everyone is welcome on Council, and to cause a wider range of people to participate in municipal politics. Diversity is good for decision-making, and it is obvious that our current Council does not remotely reflect the diversity of our community.
“My counterparts – who are all retired – refused to even entertain this discussion, or to take seriously the severe lack of diversity around the Council table. While claiming to support diversity, they refused to do anything meaningful about it until after the next election.
“It would seem that they either do not see the need to remove barriers which prevent working parents, low-income people, Indigenous people, and others from participating on Council, or that they do not want to run against a more diverse slate of candidates or ideas.
Refusal to Address David Kircher’s Lies and Libels
“In January, Council learned that Mayor June Caul illegally leaked a legal opinion to David Kircher, as part of a months-long campaign to undermine our staff and advisors at the Rainy River Future Development Corporation. Mr. Kircher has since taken to running weekly, full-page ads in the Fort Frances Times which are riddled with lies and falsehoods about the efforts of the RRFDC, municipal staff, and others to save the Fort Frances mill (which is now demolished).
“Tonight, during a presentation from the RRFDC, which represents the municipal interest in the Boundary Waters Forest Management Corporation, I attempted to ask questions which would set the record straight and dispel Mr. Kircher’s misinformation. Council repeatedly censored me when I attempted to clarify the facts surrounding the mill and the wood rights.
“Despite repeatedly inviting Mr. Kircher to speak to Council to spread his conspiracy theories, bald accusations, and misinformation, tonight the Mayor demanded that Council refuse to allow me to ask these questions. Council obliged, and in doing so, has continued to protect the Mayor and Mr. Kircher from facing any accountability for their efforts to undermine and libel RRFDC staff, the Town’s forestry advisors, and myself.
“The Mayor is blocking any discussion or myth-busting about the allegations being made by the ‘friend’ she leaked confidential municipal information to.
Council is Resisting Renewal and Change
“This community is at a critical turning point in its history. I am so disappointed that a Council elected on promises to do things differently has become part of the resistance to much-needed renewal, transparency, accountability, and reconciliation in local government.
“I am saddened at the number of people my age or younger who have become statistics in the youth exodus from Fort Frances, and it is tragic that my counterparts do not see how their actions – including their decisions tonight – are contributing to this decline.
“I will have more to say in the days ahead about my experience on this Council, and what needs to change in the future. I encourage those interested in renewal in Fort Frances to contact me if they would like to discuss how to make change on Council.”
Douglas W. Judson