As we all know, “good fences make good neighbours.”
At least, that’s how it is supposed to work.
But sometimes it’s more complicated than that. This isn’t about a fence, but about a building on the other side of a fence and neighbouring properties.
The situation enveloping Lord Mayor Betty Disero and her husband Dan Williams over a complaint he filed with the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake about a neighbouring property is complicated, a bit confusing and in some ways rather disconcerting.
Mix in social media, because the concerns were sparked by the wording of a social media post, and you have an old-fashioned neighbour dispute, with a 21st-century twist.
We’re not making light of this at all. It’s a serious issue, with a lawsuit and some major concerns about possible political interference.
We can’t deal with all aspects of this case in one sitting, including whether town officials and the mayor ever discussed the situation (she has said she did nothing wrong). So, for now, we’ll focus on the complaint process in NOTL.
Colin Telfer and Jennifer Elliott, the neighbours whose garage area is at the centre of the controversy, tried for months to find out who and what was behind the complaint.
Not that it was anonymous, like so many “gotcha” complaints typically submitted to many municipalities over possible infractions. Williams said he signed a form and didn’t try to hide his identity.
It is unfortunate that because Telfer and Elliott refused to allow town inspectors onto their property to assess the situation, they ended up losing their bed and breakfast licence. And launching a lawsuit.
Two aspects of the complaint process bother us: Firstly, if neighbours have a concern or question about something, most people are loath to speak face-to-face with the potentially offending party. We realize sometimes that guy next door isn’t very amenable to conversation.
So, secondly, the default position has become to submit complaints to the town’s bureaucracy, which in NOTL and many other municipalities, grants anonymity to the complainant.
This approach has never made sense to us. Everyone should know their “accuser” so they can respond in an informed way, as necessary. It’s not fair that one side has all the power and the other has no protection.
With all due respect, sunlight and transparency remain the greatest disinfectants. And everyone should be competing on a level playing field. Some people obviously prefer the cloak of anonymity, but that doesn’t make it right.
So, for now, all other issues in this situation aside, we think this complaint is a case study in why keeping bylaw complaints anonymous is a foolish practice.
The Town of NOTL – and all the other entities than entertain such complaints – needs to rethink its approach and let the sunshine in.