Every time you bug this 85-year-old city councillor, your library could lose a few books! Have you got that, people?

Posted on November 16, 2015, 1:22 am
11 mins

PHOTOS: St. Albert City Councillor Bob Russell – fending off annoying letters from voters since 1950-something! Time to send him back to the greenhouse? (St. Albert Gazette photo.) Below: A crowd of irritating readers at a recent library event. Probably every one them sent an email to Bob Russell, dammit! Below that: Proof that I myself have spent many happy hours in the often-packed St. Albert Public Library where, full disclosure, I was once the chair of the Library Board.

ST. ALBERT, Alberta

Consider the unhappy plight of Bob Russell, 85, city councillor of St. Albert, who has been growing increasingly impatient with his extremely irritating constituents.

Everything would be great if only it weren’t for those annoying, demanding, emailing voters!

LibrSupportersHowever, Mr. Russell has found an innovative way to deal with this vexatious phenomenon, which I think will be of interest to politicians everywhere who are forced daily to confront the extremely aggravating conventions of democracy. To wit: find creative ways to fine them for bugging you about policies and spending priorities!

I’ll get to the details of how this is supposed to work in a moment, but first the necessary backstory …

When voters are not refusing to vote for particular politicians – and, over his many, many years in politics, Mr. Russell has experienced enough of this beyond the municipal level for the phrase “ballot box poison” to spring to mind – constituents seem always to be asking them to do things they don’t want to do.

The trouble is that, typically, if you’re a politician and you want to get re-elected (and Mr. Russell always seems to want to get re-elected) you can’t just act like a sensible person and tell these morons to [EXPLETIVE DELETED] off!

No! Can you believe it? You’re expected to listen politely to these lunatics! Talk about inconvenient!

Things weren’t so bad back in the 1950s when Mr. Russell got his start in politics on Vancouver Island, presumably because by the sound of it he didn’t manage to actually get elected.

Whatever happened, something brought him to the green political fields of Alberta where, in 1966, he ran to be the leader of the Alberta Liberal Party … and lost to some guy from Calgary. But that turned out to be OK because, when the general election came around, the good people of St. Albert sent Mr. Russell packing and elected a Social Crediter anyway.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven if he’d had to cope with constituents back in those days, a tablet was just a flat piece of stone, often with commandments written on it, not some electric gizmo you carry around with you so you can send annoying “electronic mail” to politicians whenever you feel like it. So even if the good people of St. Albert had wanted to send letters to Mr. Russell in those days, which they obviously didn’t, it would have taken too long for most of them to chip out a message on their tablet, even if they could find their chisel, and even if the postage rates hadn’t been ridiculously high to mail a block of stone!

Anyway, in 1969, Mr. Russell ran for the leadership of the Liberals again … and the Liberals elected some guy from Calgary again. But that didn’t take either and, after a spell, the second guy from Calgary gave up and quit.

And that was when Mr. Russell finally got his chance at the big time. Before you knew it, he was the Liberals’ leader and, in the next election, in 1971 … the Liberals still didn’t elect any MLAs. Mr. Russell himself came third in St. Albert. (He tried again in a by-election in Calgary a couple years later and … came fourth.)

Sensibly, Mr. Russell then lowered his expectations managed to get elected to St. Albert City Council, where he was able to serve a few terms – taking a break in 1992 to run for mayor and lose. He later ran for the federal Liberals in St. Albert … and lost to a member of the Canadian Alliance Party.

In 2013, city council beckoned again. No soap, alas. But last year there was a by-election for a seat on city council, and Mr. Russell sniffed the winds and ran as the kind of candidate who has no time for frivolous spending. A new generation of voters, apparently having forgotten all about Mr. Russell other than faintly remembering his name, gave him another kick at the council can.

Which brings us ’round to Mr. Russell’s great idea for dealing with irritating constituents.

St. Albert’s little public library is the most popular facility in the city, but it’s now far too small for the number of people who use it. (Full disclosure: I used to be chair of the St. Albert Public Library Board, so I have a dog in this hunt.) For some reason, though, this just doesn’t ring city council’s bell. Accordingly, some bright spark on the current library board came up with the idea of encouraging voters to send emails to councillors asking them to please think about building a new branch.

Who knew that this harmless little effort to nudge the city toward a new branch library would afflict Mr. Russell with apoplexy?

But at the last city council meeting, Mr. Russell threw a public hissy fit and threatened to cut support for the library by $100 every time he received an annoying email from an uppity constituent asking for, please sir, more intellectual gruel!

“I will deduct the amount of money I would have voted for this provincial library by 100 bucks,” Mr. Russell snarled, sounding, according to folks who were there, like he meant it.

Mr. Russell apparently had already grumped to the library staff to stop this nonsense and still the impertinent voters of St. Albert kept emailing him! What next? “Time to bring it to an end,” he barked. “We have other things to do. We are busy people!” You know, things to do … places to go … budgets to cut!

Now, I imagine, elected officials all over the democratic world are perking up their ears as they learn about this. What a great way to reduce the flow of time-consuming communications from bothersome electors! I mean, if you don’t live in Saudi Arabia, you can’t jail them all.

Indeed, this could work well with almost any issue that costs money, as long as you have a few allies on council. These Mr. Russell appears to have, there being a couple of additional councillors in this town who seem to think people who read books are eccentric at best and clearly a special interest. (Why have a library, they ask, when you have Google? Let me answer that question with a question: Why have a fire department when you have running water?)

I don’t mean to imply, by the way, that Mr. Russell is not a reader. On the contrary, in 2012 he told the local paper he’d just finished a great book about … the Saudi Arabian royal family. Which, uh, sort of figures.

Anyway, every time an email now lands in Mr. Russell’s inbox ([email protected]) pleading for a new library, [EXPLETIVE DELETED] you, he’ll fine you the cost of a couple of books! Which, we should all admit, isn’t as bad as what the Saudi royal family would probably do in the same circumstances!

If Doug Ford had thought of this when he was exchanging Tweets with Margaret Atwood, he’d probably be mayor of Toronto today! Or, then again … maybe not. Mr. Russell, I’m pretty sure, doesn’t Tweet.

Regardless, I think we St. Albertans – especially those of us who use the library now and again – should take the first possible opportunity to relieve Councillor Russell of the burden of having to read whining letters from his constituents ever again.

That, unfortunately, won’t happen until Oct. 16, 2017. If you live in St. Albert, keep the date clear in your calendar.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

19 Comments to: Every time you bug this 85-year-old city councillor, your library could lose a few books! Have you got that, people?

  1. anonymous

    November 16th, 2015

    I am neither a Saint Albertan nor an Albertan (is there a difference?). But I do confess that I borrowed Volume 1 of Schweitzer’s biography of JS Bach from a public library thirty-seven years ago and never returned it. If libraries concentrated on recuperating late fees from delinquent clients like me, that effort might go a long way in solving funding problems.

    What? No brown shoes?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hw-btWzUhXc

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 16th, 2015

      I calculate your fine at $3,376.25 less interest. You should probably report it lost and pay the $50 replacement price.

      Reply
      • anonymous

        November 16th, 2015

        Good advice – I’ll pay the $50 replacement fee. I’ve been on the run from the Library Police for too many years.

        Reply
        • Pogo

          November 16th, 2015

          I dangle by our host’s blog mostly I guess because he writes well and attracts the kind of commentarians that any self respecting socialist would be proud of.
          Sorry about your memory though. But hey, at least ur not in the crow bar hotel for your love of fugues!
          https://youtu.be/AL8chWFuM-s

          Reply
          • David Climenhaga

            November 17th, 2015

            Thus saith H.W. Fowler, the authority on all such matters: “It was once a cherished superstition that prepositions must be kept true to their name and placed before the word they govern in spite of the incurable English instinct for putting them late … The fact is that the remarkable freedom enjoyed by English in putting its prepositions late and omitting its relatives is an important element in the flexibility of the language. … Almost all of our great writers have allowed themselves to end a sentence or a clause with a preposition. … If the final proposition that has naturally presented itself sounds comfortable, keep it.” And so I shall do!

          • anonymous

            November 17th, 2015

            I’ll forward Fowler’s revelations to my Grade 5 grammar teacher, Miss Brown. Apology to pogo.

          • David Climenhaga

            November 17th, 2015

            The delightful Henry Watson Fowler, the “lexicographical genius” responsible for various famed dictionaries and much commentary on our wonderful language that is both illuminating and entertaining, is a helpful antidote to the Miss Browns of this world. He dismisses as superstitions many inflexible “rules” Miss Brown taught you, not just the one about never ending a sentence with a preposition. Split infinitives to better communicate? According to Fowler they’re OK. And starting a sentence with “and” or “but”? Quite acceptable. The necessity of the subjunctive mood? Well, on that, as I recall, he is more nuanced, but you can take it from me, as it were, it’s pretty well obsolete and no one will even notice if you do or do not use it. Enough showing off … that is all. DJC

          • Adam

            November 17th, 2015

            As I said in a previous thread, the tragedy is that North Americans follow the idiotic advice of Strunk and White against the fully excellent advice of Fowler. And Fowler, writing at about the same time as Strunk and White, was actually a grammarian whose views need not always be folowed but who at least knew what he was talking about, but sadly it is the two idiots Strunk and White who have had influence.

        • anonymous

          November 19th, 2015

          Enough showing off … that is all. DJC

          Why?

          Reply
          • pogo

            November 22nd, 2015

            Because.

  2. Tom in Ontario

    November 16th, 2015

    Do emails from out of town, say Ontario, count? If so, I will not send him one, thereby saving him the task of preventing the St. Albert Library from securing such titles as Joan Rivers: Diary of a Mad Diva.

    Reply
    • David Climenhaga

      November 16th, 2015

      Thank you on all counts, Tom.

      Reply
  3. Jeem

    November 16th, 2015

    If I send Bobby an email telling him what a great job he’s doing running the library, will he then add $100 to its budget?

    Curious in Cowtown

    Reply
  4. Nolan

    November 17th, 2015

    Libraries are a waste of our hard earned tax dollars. Just make public internet terminals for a fraction of the cost. Derek Fildebrandt has it right.

    Reply
    • Athabascan

      November 17th, 2015

      I agree. Let’s round up all the books in all the libraries and burn them to produce steam so it can be used in the tarsands process. Voila, ethical oil.

      Reading books is overrated.

      Reply
  5. Marcel Maudlin

    November 17th, 2015

    The Twitter. The Electronic Mail. Bob Russell: He’s just not ready.

    Reply

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