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Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

Responding to Deputy Mayor Bob Spooner’s criticism of my police column

First published: January 28, 2006

This is my letter responding to a series of criticism made on the editorial page of the Cobourg Daily Star after my last column on policing.

Dear Editor:

Thank-you for the opportunity to respond to the Alternative Viewpoint “Deputy Mayor refutes columnist” on Dec. 29, 2005 outlining comments made by Mr. Bob Spooner regarding my column “Time to clean up the mess” Dec. 28, 2005. Mr. Spooner pointed out several concerns deserving my response.

First, let me thank Mr. Spooner for making his comments, since they provide an excellent opportunity to further clarify my argument. It can be difficult to elaborate on a subject so complex as policing in Cobourg and West Northumberland in relatively few words.

Mr. Spooner rightly points out the town did pay a portion of the expenses related to the funeral of Constable Chris Garrett. The column states: “When council failed to pick up the expenses, as requested by the police association, there was a level of bitterness that would not go away.” I failed to add the word “full” to modify expenses. I apologize to readers.

It is interesting to note, Mr. Spooner says in his rebuttal, the town paid $13,000 for the reception toward the total cost of $100,000. In fact, taxpayers picked up approximately 75 per cent of the costs related to the funeral and the police association paid about $25,000. The $13,000 Mr. Spooner refers to was actually the in-kind contribution the town made, while the remaining $62,000 was cash paid by the town and the police board (since the town provides the police its funding, then it can be considered the town’s money). Yet, it should be noted, the town initially fought over its contribution. It was only after a series of negotiations between the town, the police board and the police association, that a cost-sharing agreement was reached. There are some who believe the town should have paid the full cost of the funeral, seeing how it was meant to honour an officer killed in the line of duty. Still, there are others who say taxpayers should not have paid at all. One thing is certain; this left some members of the police association bitter, which was my point.

Next, Mr. Spooner feels I did him a disservice for calling him thin-skinned for raising resident’s concerns over the bawdyhouse investigation. He says there were more than the few citizens I referred to in my column. While only he would know the exact number of citizens who spoke to him, my point was simple: Mr. Spooner could have done more to show his support for the officer and the police force.

While some might believe Mr. Spooner was doing his duty to taxpayers by taking these criticisms to the police board, there was plenty more he could have done to show his equal support for the officers involved. The burden of proof necessary for this kind of investigation is incredibly onerous going beyond just paying for the bawdyhouse’s service. Cobourg police officers were right not to allow themselves to be involved. No officer should have to expose themselves to this kind of denigration. These are men who have families and loved ones. It is never really clear in any of the coverage of the police board meeting (Cobourg Daily Star March 28, 2005) where the deputy mayor explicitly expresses his solidarity with the officers. Nor, does he suggest following up to change this lousy law with either Northumberland MPP Lou (Who?) Rinaldi or MP Paul Macklin, acting as one of the political representatives of the police board and of the town. It appeared Mr. Spooner was siding with the unempathetic citizens who are quick to criticize the police officers, an attack that should focus on poor laws instead of poor policing. Rather than showing his compassion for their plight by clearly defending or even advocating on their behalf, the deputy mayor’s position related to the officers appears blurred. It is this lack of clarity that is central to the argument being made in the column about the lack of support to the police force. Council did pass a bylaw, which was brought forward by Chief Garry Clement, giving better enforcement powers.

His next two criticisms are the most puzzling. He attacks my column for singling out Mayor Peter Delanty, Councillor Lloyd Williams and himself regarding the request for an OPP costing, saying the entire council voted in favour. Yet my column states: “Still, there is Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty, Mr. Spooner and all of Cobourg council (emphasis mine) voting to proceed with an OPP costing.” I feel this point was pretty clearly made.

Next, he takes me to task for mentioning his call to try to stop Constable Shawn Nelles’ pay. He suggests his efforts are indicative of his resolve to address Cobourg police issues. Certainly, that is one interpretation. However, another view might be that he could have done this quietly, through a series of discreet inquiries to officials. Once determining that there were grounds to withhold pay, then go public with the facts.

Instead, the deputy mayor speculates in the press before having not done his homework in advance. Two concerns are raised by his course of action. One is the further disparagement of Constable Nelles, who comes off looking like he is trying to scam taxpayers. Or, it looks like the police chief is incompetent for not doing his job to save precious tax dollars. Again, there appears to be a lack of sensitivity for these people. Certainly, Nelles has admitted his mistakes and is suffering the full consequences of his actions. Was it really necessary to vilify him further? But maybe this was not the point. Maybe, this was about scoring points with voters. And that is the second concern. However, that could be too big a leap in logic. Citizens can decide which interpretation to believe, Mr. Spooner or others.

Finally, I wish to thank the deputy mayor for engaging in this important debate. Mayor Peter Delanty stated in a front-page article Friday Dec. 30 Cobourg Daily Star that policing is a priority in 2006. Let us hope this is not the last time citizens see Mr. Spooner’s view expressed on the editorial page rather than the news pages of the paper. In the future, he should consider writing himself rather than having others do it for him to ensure citizen can see his point of view in his own words. If he lacks the paper and a pen, I would be happy to supply him with some.

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